> JS Bach - Partita and Sonatas [KM]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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  Founder: Len Mullenger

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Partita and Sonatas

Partita in E major BWV 1006
Sonata in G minor BWV 1013 (original for flute in A minor)
Sonata in A minor BWV 1003
Anner Bylsma, violoncello piccolo
Rec: no recording info (originally released in 1989).
DHM 05472 77843 2 [62.06]


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Anner Bylsma, the Dutch cellist, has recorded two of the finest interpretations of Bach’s solo suites for cello. His sensitivity, emotion, and energetic playing make him one of the best performers of Bach’s works. This recording features three works, all arranged by Bylsma for the violoncello piccolo: the first and third pieces were originally written for solo violin, and the middle piece is the only solo work for flute that Bach wrote.

There is no need here to discuss the validity of these transcriptions - Bach transcribed much of his own work, and, with the exception of the flute sonata, the transcription is not very radical. But the use of this instrument - which Bylsma used on his first recording of the cello suites, for the final suite - makes this disc very interesting. The instrument used is actually a 19th century children’s cello, with gut strings, which gives it a unique tone.

Bylsma is not in his finest here, however. His intonation is off in the higher notes of the E major partita. While the movements in the lower ranges sound excellent, and quite full of energy, he struggles in the higher end of the instrument, and the result is not always attractive. He plods through the minuets, but the second movement, the loure, is sinuous and seductive. He is much better in the final movements, the bourrée and gigue, where the rhythm carries him away. The A minor sonata suffers from the same problems of intonation, though the overall playing is more lively. The long fugue is well-played, but the higher end of the instrument is a bit screechy. The pulsing andante is quite attractive, and Bylsma maintains an alluring rhythm.

The G minor sonata, originally written for solo flute in A minor, is the gem of this disc. Who would have thought that this work could sound so good on a string instrument? Bylsma’s arrangement is excellent, and his playing radiant. From the very first notes, one can hear that Bylsma is at home with this work - the sound is quite different from the partita, in fact, and highlights the instrument much more. Bylsma is smooth and lyrical in the long opening allemande, his legato playing espousing the subtle curves of the melody. In the other movements, his playing is at the same standard - unlike in the opening partita, his intonation is close to perfect. The sarabande of this sonata, in Bylsma’s performance, is one of the most moving sections of any of Bach’s solo works. Bylsma here transcends music to reach a plane of such perfection, emotion and beauty, that this listener remained transfixed by his performance. Slow and sensual, his tone is perfect, his bowing ideal, this movement is powerful and subtle.

One comment on the notes to this disc - there is not even a list of the movements of the different works, let alone their timings. While there are a few pages of interesting comments about the instrument, it wouldn’t be too difficult to include the basic information that one expects to find in a recording: a track list, timing, recording information, etc.

This disc is a mixed bag. Anner Bylsma is excellent in his rendition of the flute sonata, but his performance of the solo violin works leaves a bit to be desired. At its budget price, this is a valuable addition to any Bach discography, in spite of its imperfections.

Kirk McElhearn

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