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Symphonies 1, 2, 3

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 - 1750)
Transcriptions for viola da gamba
Partita No. 3 in E (BWV 1006) [22:20]
Sonata No. 2 in a minor (BWV 1003) [23:46]
Partita No. 2 in d minor (BWV 1004) [33:28]
Susanne Heinrich (viola da gamba)
rec. 10-13 April 2012, St Andrew's Church, Toddington, Gloucestershire, UK. DDD

Throughout history music has been adapted, arranged, transcribed - whatever you want to call it. In the renaissance some very popular chansons or tunes were arranged numerous times by various famous and less famous composers. Arrangements in the baroque era were different. At that time composers wrote more idiomatically for specific instruments. That made it more complicated to adapt their music for another scoring. If a composer used double-stopping in a violin sonata, the thus-created polyphony was inevitably lost in a transcription for transverse flute.
Once the oeuvre of Johann Sebastian Bach was rediscovered in the 19th century performers started to arrange his works for their instruments. Organ music was arranged for piano or for orchestra and his compositions for solo instruments were also the subject of arrangements of various kinds. That hasn't changed in our own times in which interpreters are more respectful of the intentions of the composer. Arrangements as such are not 'un-authentic': Bach himself arranged his own music for different instruments. A good example is to be found in his sonatas for keyboard and viola da gamba, which were originally written for two melody instruments and bc.
The discography of Bach's works includes a large number of adaptations of his sonatas and partitas for violin solo and of his suites for cello solo. Harpsichord, piano, recorder, even saxophone - you name it. The cello suites have been recorded on the viola da gamba by Paolo Pandolfo (Glossa, 2000), but as far as I know Susanne Heinrich is the first to transcribe three of the solo violin works for her instrument. She became acquainted with them when she had violin lesssons in her teenage years. When she became a professional player of the viola da gamba she regularly tried to play those works on the viol, often with limited success.
She had to overcome various problems. One was the tuning; once this was settled and she had decided which tuning to use, she faced another question. "The biggest question throughout was whether to try to sound like a violin an octave down, or whether to make this music into something more idiomatic-sounding for the viol. The nature of my instrument made this decision mostly for me." So what we get here is a truely idiomatic performance: this is viol music and strongly reminds me of the gamba suites by French composers of Bach's time. That decision has a strong logic to it. France was virtually the only country where the viola da gamba was still played, whereas in Italy the instrument had become completely obsolete. The German gamba virtuosos of Bach's time were educated in the French style, and influenced by the likes of Forqueray. The opening movements of the third partita - originally in E, here transposed to D - and the second sonata - preludio and grave respectively - very much resemble the preludes as we know them from French viol suites. The articulation is different from what we used to hear in performances on the baroque violin.
Obviously the pièce de résistance is the chaconne from the second partita. Susanne Heinrich makes it impressive and incisive. In various ways it is different from what we are acquainted with. In order fully to appreciate this performance one should try to listen to it without comparing it with the original scoring. That goes for the whole disc. That is no mean task if one has one's favourite violin recording at the back of one's mind. However, it is worth attempting, because this disc has much to offer. If you love these works you should give this disc a try. This is an impressive and mostly convincing attempt to adapt these marvellous pieces for the viola da gamba.
Johan van Veen