Although J.S. Bach's orchestral music has been transcribed for guitar ensemble before, notably selected Brandenburg Concertos by the De Falla Trio and the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, this is the first recording of the four suites for orchestra that I have heard in a setting of this type; it is not a source of material that readily springs to mind for such treatment and certainly purists would decry such practices.
Leading early music expert Winsome Evans presents the final chapter in her ground-breaking project to transcribe and record Bach’s solo instrumental works for the harpsichord, with the Six Cello Suites and Partita for Solo Flute. Evans’ project, some 30 years in the making, is based on evidence that Bach himself played his solo instrumental works on the keyboard – including the statement of a former student that Bach often played the solo violin and cello works ‘on the clavier, adding as much in the nature of harmony as he found necessary’. The harmonies added by Evans to the solo works are inspired by methods from Bach’s own time.
The music of the Eighteenth century features delicate textures and refinement as well as expressiveness and energy. This was the age of the smaller chamber orchestra, and Bach was one of the compositional geniuses of the century. In this recording, the award-winning Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra, which specializes in authentic renditions on fine reproduction period instruments, performs four delightful Bach suites, including No. 1 in C, No. 2 in B Minor and Nos. 3 and 4 in D Major.
The circumstances that moved Bach to relinquish his position as Kapellmeister in the placid town of Cothen in 1723 and to assume the succession of Johann Kuhnau as Cantor of St. Thomas's in Leipzig are, like so many factors in his biography, not easy to explain. Was it out of concern that, as a court musician, he would be obliged to neglect one of his most outstanding gifts as a virtuosic organist? was it because of his princely employer's gradual loss of interest in music in general and in his small, but exquisite court orchestra in particular? Or was it the gruelling religious conflict, a never ending source of agitation at the residence, where the conversion to Calvinism was a rather half-hearted affair and which posed a growing threat to the freedom of Bach's artistic activities? Question upon question. The fact that Bach's professional dreams were by no means to be fulfilled as Cantor in Leipzig, either, is amply documented: in an endless epistolary feud about what seem to be no more than ludicrously trivial vexations, but which none the less aggravated the burden of the virtually superhuman catalogue of his duties, he was constantly at loggerheads with his superiors.
In a promotional DVD accompanying this release Jean-Guihen Queyras cites the abundance of excellent Bach Cello Suites cycles on the market as one reason he waited until 2007 to commit his interpretations to disc. Queyras needn't have worried, for his playing is never less than beautiful, eloquent, and thoroughly world-class. It fuses the most apparent characteristics distinguishing certain memorable editions: Schiff's shapely melodic parsing, Pergamenschikov's infectious feeling for the dance, Bylsma's period-performance innovations, and Tortelier's purity of tone.