relish the opportunity to visit and renew associations
with old friends who, through prevailing circumstances,
have become neglected.
this writer’s long-time old friends are the four works
by J.S. Bach collectively know as ‘The Four Suites for
Lute’. The review disc provided ample incentive to
again listen to several favoured recordings of these
has changed, especially in the world of the classical
guitar since 34 year-old John Williams, recorded this
1974-75. The ‘king’s throne’ was permanently occupied by
Andrès Segovia, then 82 years of age. Some years earlier
Segovia had bestowed on Williams the epithet ‘prince of
the guitar’ and the young prince was one of a few concert
guitarists who were internationally renowned.
decades later there are now numerous concert guitarists
who play to such high standards; had they been contemporary
with John Williams the ebullience of Segovia may have
been less effusive (see the DVD Andrès
Segovia in Portrait previously reviewed here).
the notes accompanying this disc an excerpt from the
Review appears: ‘There are many fine guitarists
before the public today but I doubt very much that
any of them can match the virtuosity John Williams
must assume that this pertains to the original release
of the disc (1975) when some would question its premise;
if current it is ill-informed.
the four works BWV 995, 996, 997 and 1006a are collectively
referred to as ‘The Lute Suites’ only in one, BWV 995,
is the instrument intended by the composer clear. Bach’s
autographed manuscript written between 1727 and 1731 bears
the designation ‘Pièces pour la Luth à Monsieur Schouster’.
Unidiomatic elements are found in all the Suites and
this does not assist in resolving the question of instrumentation
for the remaining three, however this very characteristic
lends them to adaptation, especially for the guitar.
a master of arrangement and adaptation, used the Fifth
Suite for Unaccompanied Cello, BWV 1011, as the basis for
BWV 995, and some would suggest is an improvement over
the superb original. BWV 1006a is derived from the Partita
for Unaccompanied Violin, BWV 1006.
four Suites, played on both lute and classical guitar,
are well represented in the recorded music catalogue. If
one considers only the complete Suites the field narrows.
addition to the review disc, better know versions for
guitar include Göran Söllscher (DG 445 563-2 - 1981)
and Sharon Isbin (Virgin Classics VC 7 90717-2 - 1989).
has also recorded these Suites at various times, e.g.
(EMI 5 55123 2 - 1992) which includes BWV 996 and 1006a.
Galbraith (Delos DE 3258 - 2000) recorded BWV 995,
996, and 997. BWV 1006a appears separately on Delos
are countless recordings of the various individual
Suites including a very memorable one of BWV 1006a
by Ana Vidovic
(Naxos 8.554563 - 1999).
his 1975 recording John Williams used a standard six-string
guitar. No mention is made of the luthier who constructed
the instrument but the accompanying photograph suggests
Ignatio Fleta. Göran Söllscher used an eleven-string
alto guitar by Georg Bolin and Paul Galbraith an eight-string
instrument by David Rubio.
was never enthusiastic about additional strings on
the guitar, however the enhanced bass register, particularly
in the Söllscher recording is especially pleasing.
recording quality of the review disc is excellent and the
tonal colours and strength that Williams extracts from
his instrument bear the hallmark of a master guitarist.
Williams is a superb technician and justifiably deserves
the accolades heaped on him during his long career.
His rendition of these works is most authoritative
with admirable fluidity. Musically, dryness emerges
in some of the movements; one’s foot loses desire to
respond and only then does the mind drift to alternative
musicianship of Julian Bream is hard to beat and a testimony
of this can be quickly gained by comparing his rendition
of the Allemande from BWV 996 with the aforementioned versions.
Interestingly an earlier version by Bream (1965) and included
in compilation RCA VD 60494 (1990) contains a different
arrangement that employs higher registers in the second
section (Bream arr. commencing measure 5). This is particularly
beautiful and, in the opinion of this writer, unfortunately
this writer’s preferred version of the Four Suites is that
by Göran Söllscher. The reading is excellent, execution
faultless and instrumentation uniquely relevant. For an
unparalled experience in Lute Suite pyrotechnics no one
matches Ana Vidovic. While the slow movements are most
expressively executed the speed at which Vidovic performs
the Prelude (BWV 1006a), albeit with magnificent clarity
and precision, can be gauged from the following timings:
Vidovic [3:22]; Williams [4:27]; Isbin [4:23]; Söllscher
[5:08]. It would be quite an experience to hear her
play the complete cycle and this may find its way to
of the preferred list?
is no one best recording of these works, but this version
by John Williams has earned a well-deserved place among
the favoured few.