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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
The Sonatas and Partitas for Unaccompanied Violin BWV 1001 - 1006
Arranged for 8-string guitar
Sonata no. 1 in A minor (orig. G minor)
Partita no. 1 in B minor
Sonata no. 2 in B minor (orig. A minor)
Partita no. 2 in E minor (orig. D minor)
Sonata no. 3 in D major (orig. C major)
Partita no. 3 in E major
Paul Galbraith, 8-string guitar
Rec: September 1997, January 1998, First Congregational Church, Los Angeles.
DELOS DE 3232 [117.52]

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Guitarist Paul Galbraith designed an 8-string guitar, that he had built specially for him, which uses the usual 6 guitar strings but is augmented by an additional high string and low string. This allows him to play the instrument in a much wider range than usual; rather than playing the highest notes further up the neck, where tone is less clear, he has an additional string for them. The extra low string allows him to have a much deeper range of bass notes.

In addition, he plays this guitar in a very unique way - it is supported by a metal endpin, like a cello, and stands on a wooden resonance box. He holds it in the same way as a cellist holds his instrument, and plays it almost vertically. Suffice it to say that this instrument looks surprising at first, but it takes but a few notes to appreciate its unique sound.

Unique is a work that describes this entire recording. Paul Galbraith has arranged Bach’s sonatas and partitas for solo violin to be played on the guitar, as have many other players of plucked instruments (guitar, lute, theorbo). Yet the range of his instrument allows him to go much further than other arrangements (he has also change the keys of four of the suites to best exploit the range of his guitar). The low notes, such as in the beautiful A minor fugue or in the massive E minor chaconne, resonate richly, and the higher notes ring clear and sharp.

Galbraith claims that these works "were conceived as a single piece, like a ‘suite of suites’". His "personal impression is that the "6 solo" is an instrumental gospel story in triptych form, telling of the Birth, Passion and Resurrection of Christ." Whether or not this is the case, this is by far the most inspired recording of these works I have ever heard, on any instrument. His playing flows so smoothly in the slower movements, with the subtlest phrasing and dynamics, and his tempi - often surprising - shed new light on these works.

Many of the movements are played far slower than other performances; the E minor chaconne, at nearly 20 minutes long, is nearly twice as long as many other renditions. Gone is the hurried sound of musicians just barely able to keep up with Bach’s hectic score. Instead, we hear the subtle harmonies and counterpoints that lay hidden in this extraordinary work. Galbraith gives this, the grandest movement in all of Bach’s solo works, the approach it needs to become otherworldly, to transcend mere music. From a virtuoso display of pyrotechnics it becomes a spiritual meditation; from a mad rush, it becomes a study in restraint and depth. He adds incredible emotion to this piece, playing each section at a tempo that allows the ear to appreciate the complexity of Bach’s music and its profound spiritual intensity.

This is the finest recording of these works for any plucked instrument, and perhaps for any instrument at all. Galbraith’s unique style, coupled with the magnificent sound of his guitar, make this one of the most essential Bach recordings I have ever heard. Buy this disc for a totally new approach to some of Bach’s finest music.

Kirk McElhearn

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