BACH (1685-1750) Works for Lute - Volume 1
Suite in E minor BWV 996 (c.1720) [13.30];
Suite in C minor (trans. A minor) BWV 997 (c.1740) [13.37]; Suite
in G minor BWV 995 (trans. from Cello Suite No.5 in A minor) [23.17];
Prelude, Fugue and Allegro in E flat major, BWV 998 (trans. D major)
rec. no details given
AZICA ACD71250 [70.05]
Imagine the scene if you will. It is 1738 and the great J.S.
goes to Dresden and he meets Silvius Leopold Weiss court lutenist
to the Saxon Elector Frederick Augustus I. He also meets the
renowned Johann Kropfgans, a gifted pupil of Weiss who is lutenist
to the Elector's chief minister. J.S. does not play the
lute but is interested. The instrument has really had its day
but seems yet to have so much promise. Bach also found time
to make music with these two colleagues. An eye-witness account
reports as much. The following year Bach writes the Suite in
C minor and the Prelude, Fugue and Allegro. He had used the
lute in St. John Passion and as part the continuo and elsewhere.
In his so-called Weimar period from 1708-1717 he had written
other lute works including the E minor Suite.
Perhaps I am being a bit of a purist but I find it curious that
a guitarist would choose to record this repertoire especially
if, as here, he has to transpose three of the four works into
another key. Is it not like playing Bach on the piano? Perhaps
it's like saying that the F sharp Prelude and Fugue are
a bit tricky so we'll transpose them into G? There's
nothing wrong with that, I hear you say, nevertheless it needs
to be pointed out.
This is, by my count Jason Vieaux's sixth recording for
the enterprising Azica Cleveland-based label. However it's
the first time he has recorded anything from the baroque period.
I have missed the others but enjoyed some extracts from these
discs over the internet.
I started the CD with the short Suite in E minor, which is untransposed
and is a perfect key for the guitar. The pattern is followed
similarly in the other suites: Prelude and Fugue (here quite
straightforward and easy) an Allemande, then a typically French
Courante, followed by an expressive Sarabande - gorgeous in
this suite. Then comes the best known movement: a two-part Bourée
ending with a Gigue. In other words the work follows the standard
suite form which we also find in the solo cello suites except
that here the Minuet is excluded.
The C minor Suite is transposed up from A minor. Richard E.
Rodda, in his useful booklet notes, dates it to 1740. The work
dispenses with the Allemande and Courante and instead has a
long fugue made even more involved by a complete da capo of
its first half. In addition the Gigue is followed by a double,
or variation, which here is separately tracked. It was whilst
listening to this work that Vieaux's artistry really hit
home. His sense of colour, phrase shaping and beautifully expressive
dynamics are remarkable. It is not easy, especially in a long
fugue, to keep the listener with you.
Apparently we can date the Prelude, Fugue and Allegro in E flat
major (played here in D) to 1740-45. It is also possible to
play it on a keyboard or I should say a clavier. The Fugue is
complex for the guitar and in fairness I don't feel that
it's one of the, master's best. Even so the Prelude
is especially moving and the final allegro lively and catchy.
It brings the CD to a happy conclusion.
We end at the beginning and with the finest work on the CD.
It's difficult to date precisely when Bach made his lute
transcription of the Fifth Cello Suite. He may have intended
it for the 'cembal' (harpsichord) according to the rather
ambiguous manuscript. In any event it works beautifully especially
in the hands of Jason Vieaux. There are two Gavottes in this
suite. The second is a 'Gavotte en Rondo'. However it
is the austere and very deeply thoughtful Prelude which gives
this piece its particular gravitas. The closeness of the recording
makes one feel as if the performance is happening privately
in one's home.
It's heartening to know that the disc is labeled 'Volume
1'. Despite my caveats the playing displays consummate artistry
and the music is sublime.
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John Quinn Seen & Heard Editor Emeritus Bill Kenny Editor in Chief
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