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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Bach on the Italian Lute
Præludium in C minor (BWV 999) (c.1720) [2:04]
Suite (Partita) in c minor (BWV 997) (1737-41) [13 :30]
Prelude [3:50]; Sarabande [6:16]; Gigue [3:24]
Pièces pour la luth à Monsieur Schouster : Suite in g minor (BWV 995) (1727-31) [25 :27]
Prelude, tres viste [6:33]; Allemande [5:46]; Courante [2:33]; Sarabande [2:40]; Gavotte, Gavotte en Rondeau [5:11]; Gigue [2:44]
Suite No.1 for Violoncello (BWV 1007) (c.1720) (arranged in C major by Peter Croton) [17:31]
Prélude [2:31]; Allemande [4:33]; Courante [3:13]; Sarabande [2:40]; Menuet 1 & 2 [2:51]; Gigue [1:43]
(Gottfried) Heinrich STÖLZEL (1690-1749)
Bist du bei mir from Clavier-Büchlein für Anna Magdalena Bach (arranged for solo lute by Peter Croton) [3:18]
Peter Croton (lute)
rec. Basel City Studios, Switzerland, 23-26 January 2008. DDD.
GUILD GMCD7321 [61:57 ]
Experience Classicsonline

 

In about 1739 Bach commissioned a strange hybrid instrument known as a Lautenwerck, Lautenclavicymbel or lute-harpsichord, a keyboard instrument designed to produce the sound of a lute, and two such instruments were listed in his effects after his death.  It was doubtless for these that he composed his Lute Suites and other lute music; attempts to play them on the kind of lute commonly in use in Northern Europe in Bach’s day have not always been successful.  As Peter Croton notes in the booklet, reproduced on the Guild website, his own earlier efforts rather came to grief until he realised that the Italian lute – i.e. the kind of archlute mainly used as a continuo instrument – would be ideal for the music.

In recording this music he is taking on hugely successful guitar transcriptions by John Williams and others as well as a series of recordings by Nigel North on the Amon Ra and Linn labels, not to mention Julian Bream on both lute and guitar.  Of Julian Bream’s Bach only scraps remain on 2-CD sets from DG (477 7550) and RCA (8869 721442 2) together with a whole EMI CD of his Bach (5 55123 2) – what happened to the RCA Complete Julian Bream edition?  - may we have it restored to us, please?  Look out for remainders and second-hand copies of 09026 61603 2 on which Bream plays the Lute Suites BWV996 and 997 on the guitar and the Trio Sonatas BWV525 and 529 on the lute, with George Malcolm.

There’s also a recommendable Paul Galbraith recording of BWV995-8 on the guitar (Delos DE3258 – see review) but, if you’re looking for real authenticity, Robert Hill plays some of Bach’s lute music on a reconstructed Lautenwerck (Hänssler 92.109); I haven’t heard this recording but it was well received on its appearance in 1999.

In BWV995 Croton is in direct competition with Nigel North, on the fourth volume of his Bach on the Lute series – Linn CKD055, but you’re almost certain to like what you hear so much that you ought to go for the 4-for-2 box set, CKD300: the CDs, CD-quality and mp3 downloads all cost £20 direct from Linn.  On two of these CDs, CKD049 and CKD055, North plays transcriptions of Bach’s Cello Suites; in the case of BWV995 no transcription was required, since this Lute Suite is identical to the Fifth Cello Suite, BWV1011.  Which came first is a matter of debate – since the tuning is more suited to the lute, involving scordatura for the cello, there is a case for arguing that this came first.  Kirk McElhearn described the Linn as ‘a lovely set – see review – a sentiment with which I thoroughly concur.

The first movement is marked tres viste (Guild preserve the old French spelling).  North’s tempo struck me as much more apt in this movement, without ever making the music sound hurried (Guild track 5, Linn track7) – Croton takes more than a minute longer and the darker sound of his archlute against North’s brighter instrument contributes to my finding the latter a clear winner here.

In all except one of the other movements of the suite, too, North’s slightly faster tempi and sprightlier rhythms pay dividends without ever destroying the dignity of the music.  Of the two Gavottes on CKD055 (trs. 11 and 17) neither is allowed to run away.  Croton is good, clearly enjoying and understanding the music; North is superb, totally immersed in what he is playing.  Unfortunately, the first class always makes the slightly less good sound less attractive by comparison than when it’s heard on its own.

In his notes on the Linn website Nigel North admits to a strong love of the sarabande: “One personal delight is the chance to play a Sarabande in each suite; Bach’s sarabandes remain my ‘Desert Island Disc’ music.”  This love is apparent in the three sarabandes which he plays on CKD055, tracks 4, 10 and 16, and nowhere more so than in that of BWV955, where he lingers just a little longer than Croton over the music (Guild tr.8, Linn tr.10).  This is the one movement which he savours just that little longer and the extra 23 seconds pay off.

Croton’s own arrangement of the Cello Suite No.1 (BWV1007) is in competition with North’s arrangement of same work on CDK049; both arrange the suite in C and both are enjoyable performances in their own right.  Differences of tempo are less marked in this work as between North and Croton and between both lutenists and Paul Tortelier’s performance on the original instrument (EMI GROC 5 62878 2, or, more economically Classics for Pleasure 2 28358 2, 2 CDs in each case), except that North plays all the repeats in the opening Prelude and both he and Croton do so in the Allemande second movement, thereby appearing almost to double Tortelier’s time.  Once again, it’s in the Sarabande that North’s tendency to savour the moment is telling – his 3:12 for this movement against Croton’s 2:40, Stephen Isserlis’s 2:46 (on the multi-award-winning Hyperion CDA67541/2) and Tortelier’s 2:52 just tilts the balance in his favour.

The Guild recording is good, catching the darker tones of Croton’s instrument very well.  If I prefer the Linn sound, heard as an excellent CD-quality wma download, that reflects my preference for North’s instrument rather than any shortcoming of the Guild engineering.  The presentation of the Guild CD is attractive, with informative notes and a Chardin still life on the cover.

The inclusion of a transcription of Bist du bei mir as the short closing item is a real bonus.  It’s well played and correctly attributed to Heinrich Stölzel, who is now regarded as its only begetter, despite its appearance in Bach’s Clavier-Büchlein, but neither it nor the inclusion of the Suite in c minor (BWV997), not recorded by North, is enough to tilt the balance back in Croton’s favour.

I can’t imagine anyone being disappointed with the purchase of this Guild recording; I’ve enjoyed hearing it, but I would recommend spending about 50% extra on the Linn 4-CD North set for the two major works on this Guild set plus transcriptions of the remaining Cello Suites and the solo Violin Sonatas and Partitas.
 
Brian Wilson
 


 


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