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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Suite in E major BWV 1006a [19:27]
Suite in A minor (orig. G minor) BWV 995 [25:10]
Christ lag in Todesbanden BWV 277 [1:59]
Ciaccona (from Partita for Solo Violin BWV 1004) [14:30]
All arrangements for guitar by Ismo Eskelinen
Ismo Eskelinen (guitar)
rec. 25-28 May 2012, Snellman Hall, Kokkola.
ALBA ABCD354 SACD [61:56]

Ismo Eskelinen’s Bach on guitar is beautiful but safe, and not too exciting. The sonorities are lute-like and gallant, like tiny minuets played by music boxes, and may suit the taste of those who like their Bach thoughtful and relaxed, without mannerism. Of course, there is a time and place for anything, so if, after a tiring workday, I will need a mental relaxation, a warm bath in the shimmery harmonies – and for some reason I don’t have my beloved Angela Hewitt set around – I may well turn to this album.

The E major suite starts with a talkative Prelude. Instead of an Allemande we have an airy, gallant Loure; then enter a humorous Gavotte and two minuets, both rather decorative; a lively, openhearted Bourrée leads into the rhythmical swing of the sunlit, smiling Gigue.

The G minor suite – here transcribed to A minor – is darker and colder. Its structure is more standard for Bach’s suites. The Prelude has a slow, misty-eyed introduction that sounds gray and ancient and leads into the fast fugal part. Eskelinen plays the Allemande very slowly, so it becomes quite static, disjoint and hard to follow. The Courante does not run smoothly, due to minor imperfections of the tempo; I would prefer more lightness in its course. The Sarabande is also very deliberate; it is not a dance anymore, nor any memory of a dance; the sounds just happen and hang in the air, creating echoes, reflections and reminiscences. From this meditation emerges the cool and melodic Gavotte. This is a memorable piece, gallant and serious and a little sad; the performance is again on the slow site, which loses some of the lightness of step. The Gigue sounds antique, like a Dowland galliard, more like an epilog than the usual boisterous finale. Overall, the suite sounds very coherent. This is a pensive, unhurried, philosophical reading.

Between the Suites and the formidable Chaconne from the second Violin Partita, Eskelinen inserted another piece for meditation: a minuscule transcription of Christ lag in Todesbanden. It is very thoughtful and a bit disjoint. I liked the glassy sound of the highest register.

In the 14.5-minute reading of the Ciaccona, the guitarist declares his intentions from the very beginning: it is grandiose and heavy like a cathedral. The lines are singing, the music is well paced and sounds very natural on a guitar, but weighty, as if the original was not for a violin but for a cello. This steady, poised progress is very appropriate. Some variations receive an unexpected Spanish hue when dressed in the guitar clothes.

The recording is done beautifully; the acoustics are deep and spacious. The guitar sound is captured in its full radiance. There are occasional squeaks and hisses of the fingers moving over strings, but not at the level when it becomes a nuisance.

Listening to this album is like spending a day with your uncle. He keeps teaching you things that seem to be right, but why is this constant teaching so tedious? Another thing about uncles: you miss him when you don’t see him for a long time, but when you spend a day together, you start thinking why did you miss him at all. Something like that happens to me with this disc. I don’t play it on Repeat; but from time to time I find myself in the mood to put it on to listen. It has a mystery appeal. Eskelinen’s approach works well, his intonations are very alive, never even, never repetitive, the music breathes. This set is profound, like a long deep massage.

Oleg Ledeniov



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