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Johann Sebastian BACH(1685-1750) Sei Solo
Sonatas and Partitas, BWV 1001-1006
Mats Bergström (guitar)
rec. 2016 at Nilento Studio, Kållered., Sweden NAXOS SWEDEN ABMBCD05-1/2 [63:52 + 80:32]
The music on this two CD set represents half the ‘holy grail’ of Baroque music for unaccompanied stringed instruments; the other half, by the same composer, is the so- named Six Suites for Cello. In the latter we cannot be sure that Bach specifically nominated which instrument he intended the music to be played on, so are left to conjecture between the obvious alternatives, the cello being that favoured historically by the majority.
On this occasion the original music has been arranged for classical guitar. Such is the beauty and appeal of the music that it attracted the attention of 19th century guitarists, including Francisco Tarrega who arranged portions of it for guitar. Andres Segovia included a number of movements from the various suites in his repertoire, preferring to play and record only single movements rather than the entire partita/sonata.
Segovia was one of the first guitarists to transcribe, and play in concert, the monumental Chaconne from BWV 1004. This has long been considered the ultimate musical and technical challenge for violinists, and the same could be said about its execution on the guitar.
While one may find scores of recordings by violinists of the Partitas and Sonatas, there are very few by guitarists. Only five examples come to mind: Francesco Teopini, Paul Galbraith, Kazuhito Yamashita, Frank Bungarten, and Eliot Fisk. Historically the precedent for the adaptation of these masterpieces was established by the composer himself when he transcribed the Third Violin Partita for lute, now known as the 4th Lute Suite, BWV 1006a. While the transcription is in the hand of Bach, some debate exists about whether it was done specifically for the lute or an alternative un-named instrument.
Mats Bergström was born in Gävle, Sweden in 1961 but grew up in Stockholm where he gained his MFA at the Royal College of Music in 1982. He gave his first recital at the Wigmore Hall, London in 1983, and his first solo recording was made in 1983. From 1990-92 MT took a break, and attended the Julliard School of Music for two years as a postgraduate student. Since then his activities have centred primarily on chamber music, but also on the role of accompanist to many fine singers. His professional career as a guitarist now exceeds three decades.
If a book can be ‘judged by its cover’, a quick perusal of the review disc’s presentation gives one considerable optimism for the quality of the music presented. Two thick, white, pristine covers house the CDs and comprehensive notes, in three languages, on the music’s history and performance. Of particular interest to guitarists is information provided on the luthier who made the guitar used on the recording, the type of strings used, and the tensions. Interestingly it is devoid of any biographical details on Bergstrom
The sonic quality of the CDs helps make them a joy to review. Those preoccupied with string squeaks and whistles will be well served by Bergstrom because he has mastered the art of keeping this to an absolute minimum. His breathing is, from time to time, more noticeable than any string noise.
The arrangements are well executed and Bergstrom’s technical mastery of the instrument is conspicuous at all times. The player’s musicality provides a matrix that binds these qualities strongly together into a memorable listening experience. Those familiar with the music will note that Bergstrom opts to include all prescribed repeats except in the final fast movements of the three Sonatas.
To arrange and then record all this music, 32 movements and a total playing time of more than 144 minutes, is a very challenging undertaking which may explain, in part, the dearth of recorded guitar versions available. Mats Bergstrom describes the experience of playing the Sei Solo in its entirety as “a rare experience that strongly influences one’s overall perception of time and proportions”.
Bergstrom describes the forty- two pages of Bach’s autograph as one of the real treasures of Western culture, and something that will never cease to fascinate us.
Overall this is a laudable effort on the part of Mats Bergstrom, and no one fortunate enough to hear it could be disappointed. That said, there are still odd movements which will not supplant long-time favourites, e.g. Julian Bream’s rendition of the Fugue from BWV 1001 (RCA VD 60494)
Bergstrom plays a guitar built by Lars Jönsson, Dalarö, 2006. He uses Oasis treble strings (normal tension) and Savarez Corum basses (high tension).
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