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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Sonata BWV 1001 [19:20]
Partita BWV 1004 [32:57]
Miguel Rincón (baroque lute)
rec. 16-18 August 2012, Iglesia de Santa Maria de la Paz, Sevilla, Spain
CARPE DIEM RECORDS CD-16295 [52:19]

Transcriptions of J.S Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for violin are not new or particularly uncommon on record these days, and many with an affection for the lute will know Hopkinson Smith’s recordings, the most voluminous of which is a two disc set on the Auvidis label, E8678. Smith is one of the names cited as having given master-classes to Miguel Rincón, and he is part of a fine tradition of expert craftsmen in their field.
 
If you know the Smith recordings you will probably enjoy their rich warmth and expressiveness. Rincón is broader in general, with timings more often than not a touch longer than Smith. His sound is less warmly embracing than Smith’s, but wins in terms of transparency as a payoff. The playing here is richly colourful and varied as you would expect, with contrasts of tonality and dynamic emphasised through a constantly changing touch. There is a certain amount of noise from the fingerboard, with the little squeaks and creaks all part of the physical nature of this kind of performing. The closer you listen the more you might be able to pick out tiny imperfections, but Rincón’s musical intensity is balanced against a technical ease and sense of flow which sweeps away most of these minor and highly subsidiary blemishes.
 
If the higher register nature of the solo violin is not to your liking then this kind of performance can provide an entry into some superb music. Bach’s own transcriptions are cited as examples to provide validity for such an approach to these pieces, and with the lute still being an important instrument in Bach’s time there is no feeling of our lacking the authentic touch in these transcriptions. The violin Sonatas and Partitas are after all polyphonic in conception, and the lute is very much a polyphonic instrument. The only thing you really find lacking with the lute is that sense of tension you have with the violin, the feeling of melody and polyphony occupying the same space at the same time and clashing as a result. These performances are more relaxed in feel as a result, which as I say, could well be a good deal preferable for many people.
 
Miguel Rincón’s performances of these two masterpieces are as good as any I’ve heard, and if you dive straight for the famous Ciaconna which concludes the Partita BWV 1004 then you are in for a treat, the narrative span and fascinating variations Bach manages to conjure creating a tapestry of sound through which you can wander in your imagination for what seems like hours. With a slower tempo than Hopkinson Smith, who comes in at 12:15, there is less of a sense of urgent drama in the music, but Rincón still maintains the harmonic pace and logic which keeps interest and that sense of awe the music should inspire. After all, Julian Bream took nearly 16 minutes in his EMI guitar recording and that still sounds marvellous. Rincón’s 14:42 is by no means pedestrian.
 
Presented in a slim-line card folder and printed in economic black and white, this is still a nicely presented package with notes in English, German, French and Spanish as well as some atmospheric photos. With subtle ornamentation, fine tone and a wide range of expression, this is a Bach recording which satisfies on many levels.
 
Dominy Clements