Categories
Recording

Bach: The Trio Sonatas BWV525-530

David Newsholme (the organ of Trinity College, Cambridge)
93:34 – 2 CDs
Opus Arte OA CD9037D

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]here is some elegant, but a trifle mannered, playing on these CDs – plural because there are two of them, totalling 93 minutes. Most players fit the six trios onto one CD – Christopher Herrick in 70 minutes, John Butt in 75, Robert Quinney in 79 and an intriguing instrumental version by Tempesta di Mare in 73. This tells you that David Newsholme’s new recording is substantially slower than others, and sometimes feels not just mannered – especially BWV 526 – but ponderous.

For in spite of being recorded on the fine Metzler in Trinity College, Cambridge, the recorded sound doesn’t have the clarity and bite of either Christopher Herrick’s on a Swiss Metzler, still less Robert Quinney’s fluent and winsome performance on the much smaller Frobenius in Queen’s College, Oxford. Newsholme doesn’t feel as much a part of his instrument as the others, and it is simply not nearly as well recorded. There is insufficient clarity, with the right hand often overbalancing the left and the pedal sometimes indistinct, and this is where Quinney’s search for the right sized, beautifully-voiced, instrument pays such dividends. The liner notes for both Newsholme and Quinney give the specifications of the organs, but neither give the actual registration of the movements, which Herrick does. I’m sure Newsholme could have done better if the recording engineers had been able to give him the clarity and directness you need for these works to sing.

Some movements of these trios – wonderful exercises in compact contrapuntal writing – have instrumental origins. So some make very convincing instrumental versions, as the relatively recent version from Tempesta di Mare on CHANdos 0803, with well-argued transpositions and a variety of instrumentation, shows on a bright, well-recorded CD with well-judged tempi.

David Stancliffe

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Categories
Recording

Telemann: Les nations – Overtures & Oboe Concertos

Vinciane Baudhuin oboe, Bach Concentus, Ewald Demeyere
62:30
Challenge Classics CC72669
TWV 51:c1, c2; 55: D13, G4, B5

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his is a neat programme, sandwiching the two C minor oboe concertos (each of which instantly seizes the attention, though by different methods) between three characterful suites for strings. The latter are the well-known sequences of “ancient and modern” nationalities (TWV55: G4), a different group of peoples (TWV55: B5), and a sequence of dances and character pieces (“La Galliarde”, TWV55: D13). The composer’s invention is such that the ear is always entertained and in these lively and well-recorded accounts each of the move-ments has a distinctive flavour. Perhaps the concertos offer a darker side of his personality, C minor seemingly a rather angst-ridden key for him, and Vinciane Baudhuin relishes the challenge of bringing out the drama.

Brian Clark

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Categories
Recording

Telemann: The Grand Concertos for Mixed Instruments Vol. 2

La Stagione Frankfurt, Michael Schneider
59:36
cpo 777 890-2
TWV 52:a1, 53:D4 & D5, 54:D4 & B2

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his is a real treat for the ears – not only is Telemann’s fabulous music beautifully served (as we now expect from Schneider & Co.), but the diversity of instrumental colour is just another reason why the hour rushes by. Four of the five works follow the standard slow-quick-slow-quick da chiesa format, while the final concerto dispenses with the first of the four; here it is called a concerto from violin, trumpet, strings and continuo, but it also has an obbligato part for cello (in both the Dresden and the Darmstadt sources), which is why its catalogue number begins TWV 53… It also has three ripieno violin parts and two violas, so it is a rich texture indeed, to which the trumpet does little more than add some colour in the tuttis. The trumpet player has meatier fare elsewhere – one of the composer’s best-known works is his concerto for trumpet choir and strings – I first remember hearing it on what was for me an earth-moving recording by the AAM under Hogwood. This present rendition is equally revelatory, for never has the sound of the trumpet choir sounded so martial and (in a good way) “listen to us!” The tempi are faster than Hogwood’s but it’s the energy that is uplifting. Telemanniacs will need no recommendation from me to buy this, but if there are still any cynics out there, you don’t know what you’re missing!

Brian Clark

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Categories
Sheet music

New from the Viola da Gamba Society

[dropcap]I[/dropcap] received three recent issues in mid-April. The most substantial is No. 239, which is quite expensive (£40.10), especially for those who already have the score in Musica Britannica, vol. 70. There are two sets – 28 for three strings and organ, followed by another 21 with no organ. There are no problems with the latter, which is not included here. But the work at issue requires an organ, even if it is rarely independent. If you want to play without organ, not too much is missing, and that can be done from the string parts available from Stainer and Bell: professional players aren’t going to play without the organ: better to use a harpsichord or theorbo than nothing! In addition to MB 70, we now have two complete sets of parts of the 28 Fantasias (including the Pavan, no. 18), both without the organ. For economical reasons, an organist is not likely to buy just the first of the two sets, since the second set doesn’t have one. Meanwhile, Stephen Peglar has produced quite an expensive edition that is distorted to squeeze in essential organ passages.

No. 240 (£7.20) comprises the last pair of six Divisions for treble and bass on a ground, with the composer headed as Anon. (John Jenkins?) No. 5 in in g, No. 6 in G. There’s no shortage of semiquavers and some demisemiquavers, while a budding organist should be able to place the chords in the right place. Andrew Ashbee is the editor, informed by Peter Holman.

No. 241 (£17.00) is a set of 10 Fantasies in 3 Parts for TrTrT & TrTrB by John Okeover. The top part is treble, the second part varies between G2 and C1, and the lowest part of the first four are for tenor, with the fifth having a compass from two octaves below middle C up to the 440 A; the other five have more normal bass ranges. Andrew Ashbee is again the editor.

Clifford Bartlett

Categories
Festival-conference

Musings on a “Court of Muses”

The 13th International Fasch Festival
Zerbst/Anhalt, Germany, 15-19 April 2015

[dropcap]J[/dropcap]ohann Friedrich Fasch (1688-1758) served as court Kapellmeister of Anhalt-Zerbst for 36 years, from 1722 to his death. The first Fasch “Festtage” were organized by local Zerbst enthusiasts in 1983, who also celebrated the 200th anniversary of Fasch’s death in 1988 in style. Since 1995, this small but excellent festival in Saxony-Anhalt has been co-hosted by the town of Zerbst (c. 90 km north of Leipzig) and the International Fasch Society.

The opening ceremony of the 13th International Fasch Festival on 15 April, Fasch’s 327th birthday, included the usual speeches by officials and festive music. The most moving part, however, was the laudatory speech given by Fasch scholar Prof. Manfred Fechner in honour of this year’s recipient of the Fasch Prize: the German harpsichordist, conductor, musicologist Ludger Rémy. His most recent CD with Les Amis de Philippe consists entirely of orchestral pieces (“overture symphonies”) by Fasch that were introduced to 21st-century audiences at the 12th International Fasch Festival in 2013; the CD is available on the cpo label (777 952-2).

The 2015 opening concert featured Bach’s Erben, a youth orchestra specialising in Baroque music. It is based at Kloster Michaelstein, the home of the Musical Academy of Saxony-Anhalt which promotes early music performance practice and education (http://musik.kloster-michaelstein.de/de). To see and hear these youngsters from all over the world expertly engage with Fasch’s music and that of his contemporaries was exciting – clearly, they have all been bitten by the “Baroque bug”, which bodes well for the future.

The highpoint of this year’s Festival was, without doubt, the modern premiere of Fasch’s setting of the St John Passion, dating from c. 1748. Dr Gottfried Gille, 2013 Fasch Prize recipient, had prepared the performing edition and left it in the capable hands of university music director Jens Lorenz, the “J. F. Reichardt” chorus of the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, and the Händel-Festspielorchester Halle. All four vocalists excelled; particularly outstanding was Tobias Hunger, the evangelist and solo tenor. Fasch’s St John Passion had intentionally been scheduled on 16 April 2015, an important date in the history of Zerbst. It marked the 70th anniversary of the town’s destructions by allied forces in 1945. The performance was broadcast live by the Central German Radio (MDR), and I would argue that this work presents a new milestone in Fasch’s compositional output. His extremely sensitive setting of the Biblical text, interspersed with highly visual devotional poetry, had me on the edge of my seat for the entire time – especially impressive were the massive opening and closing choruses (the latter featuring horns!); the many action-oriented accompanied recitatives with seamlessly woven-in turbae choruses; and Fasch’s hauntingly beautiful arias, most importantly the stunning “Cavata” for tenor (“Verblendeter!”) as well as an aria for alto (“Meine Ruhe blüht im Tode”), which followed the announcement of Jesus’ death on the cross and gave me goosebumps. Conceiving large-scale works like these would have required all of Fasch’s intellectual and creative attention; no wonder he repeated cantata cycles at the court chapel on a regular basis!

The international scholarly conference began on Friday, 17 April, focusing on Anhalt-Zerbst as a “Court of Muses” during Fasch’s tenure as Kapellmeister. Prof Wolfgang Hirschmann (Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg) presented the keynote address which contextualized Volker Bauer’s 1993 fives types of courts (supposedly) prevalent during the early modern period. One is the “Court of Muses”, a somewhat ambiguous term. It refers to rulers who, for instance, built huge palaces and promoted the fine arts and literature as part of a broader, political agenda. Was that the case in Anhalt-Zerbst (and elsewhere)? Prof Ursula Kramer (University of Mainz) showed how the term “Musenhof” – actually a 19th-century invention – had changed over time. She also cleverly suggested that it was not only the presence and absence of male rulers, but that of their wives, mothers, sisters, etc., which could and would significantly shape – and transform – a court. Rashid-S. Pegah (Berlin) had examined the extant correspondence of Prince Johann Ludwig II of Anhalt-Zerbst-Dornburg, taking a closer look at his education, trips, and musical collection. Pegah felt that the court of Zerbst aligned more closely with the “Hausväterlicher Hof” type, where rulers valued privacy above all. Next, Dirk Herrmann, the author of the seminal book on the Zerbst palace, illustrated its various building phases in the 18th century. The Zerbst princes’ continued interest in, and financial commitment to fixing up the palace in Jever (a former enclave of Anhalt-Zerbst) was the topic of a paper presented by the director of the Schlossmuseum in Jever, Prof. Antje Sander (Varel).

After lunch Konstanze Musketa (Händel-Haus Halle) drew attention to Gottfried Taubert, the author of the famous 1717 treatise “The righteous dancing master”. He spent 16 years as dancing master in Zerbst, and according to a newly discovered entry in the court chapel registers, died there in 1746. References to his permanent employment in Zerbst are, however, curiously absent. Perhaps he was paid directly by the princely family, rather than the court. Barbara M. Reul (Luther College, University of Regina, Canada) introduced 17 previously unknown printed librettos that are held at the Historische Bibliothek of the Francisceum Secondary School in Zerbst. While no music survives, these primary sources document performances between 1722 and 1756 at Zerbst’s “princely school”, St Bartholomäi, in honour of headmasters and superintendents. She also examined a hitherto-unknown printed source confirming the presence of Prussian comedians in Zerbst in the mid-1740s, who entertained at the court and in town.

The first conference day was concluded by Ralph-Jürgen Reipsch (Telemann Research Centre, Magdeburg) and Bernd Koska (Bach Archive, Leipzig). Reipsch drew attention to a boy treble from Magdeburg, Christian Wilhelm Stammer, who performed at the Zerbst court in 1738. He was supposed to join the court Kapelle as a boy treble, but died shortly before he was able to take up the role. Bernd Koska’s paper was based on his enlightening book on the Gera court Kapelle at the beginning of the 18th century (ortus, 2013). Fasch composed a secular work for Gera in 1715; sadly, only the title page of the libretto, but no music survives. Koska also emphasised that Fasch could have come into contact with Pietists a decade earlier (i.e. while serving in Gera) than previously assumed.

On Friday, 17 April, the many festival guests who had flocked to Saxony-Anhalt from all over the world were treated to two lovely concerts. Epoca Barocca had chosen a wonderfully varied mixture of vocal and instrumental music, with soprano Silvia Vajente and bassoonist Katrin Lazar stealing the show in the Zerbst “Ratssaal”; this was the first time this beautiful auditorium had been used as a performance venue during a Fasch Festival. The popular “Fasch midnight” show at the (partially restored) Zerbst palace featured Ensemble Calmus. Their entertaining programme entitled “Touched: Love song from the Renaissance to the present” not only brought a lighter tone to the Festival, but also attracted a younger, but no less enthusiastic audience.

The second half-day of conferencing began with two papers in English that focused on works with a Zerbst connection. Janice B. Stockigt (University of Melbourne) carefully traced how a Missa in D by Alessandro Scarlatti found its way from Italy to Zerbst via Prague and Dresden. The fact that this mass was also the final work to be performed at the closing concert of the 2015 Festival made her paper even more valuable. Samantha Owens (University of Queensland) masterfully contextualized a hilarious hunting song by James Hook, “Ye sluggards who murder your lifetime in sleep” from the mid-1770s, which is preserved in the Zerbster Musikstube collection at the Landeshauptarchiv Sachsen-Anhalt in Dessau. Next, Nigel Springthorpe (Royal Holloway University, London) examined selected correspondence of Fasch’s colleague and successor, Johann Georg Röllig. In addition to explaining Röllig’s dire employment situation in the 1780s, Springthorpe drew attention to Röllig’s works for the Swedish royal family (first cousins of Catherine the Great, a former princess of Anhalt-Zerbst). Gottfried Gille (Bad Langensalza) prefaced his detailed examination of Fasch’s St John Passion with comments on how he had rescued music by the Zerbst Kapellmeister in the 1960s – he is truly a Fasch scholar of the first hour.

The final conference session opened with a paper presented by Peter Wollny (Bach Achive, Leipzig). He identified Christian Gotthilf Sensenschmitt, Cantor in Meerane (a small town 140 km south of Leipzig), as the copyist of an Ascension cantata, “Auf Christi Himmelfahrt allein” (FR1232) by Fasch. While he expressed doubts regarding the Zerbst Kapellmeister’s authorship of that particular work, Wollny voiced none about the once contentious two-part cantata “Willkomm du Licht” (FR701/1) by Fasch, of which he had located another manuscript copy. Maik Richter (Halle/Saale) provided compelling evidence that Fasch had composed two more pieces for the court of Anhalt-Köthen than previously assumed: a “Trauermusik” in 1732 for the funeral of Princess Christiana Johanna Aemilia, and wedding music in 1742 for the daughter of Prince August Ludwig, Christiana Anna Agnese and Count Heinrich Ernst zu Stolberg-Wernigerode. Hannes Lemke (Zerbst/Anhalt), the newly appointed head of the St Bartholomäi Church Archives in Zerbst, concluded the conference with a brilliant paper on Fasch’s privately motivated actions at the court. Lemke has been tasked with cataloguing centuries worth of (mostly) unknown or thought-to-be-lost primary sources of interest to musicologists, theologians, and historians alike. He chose to focus on documents that outline when Fasch went to confession over the course of his 36-year tenure, and with whom. This information allows us not only to pinpoint exactly when the Kapellmeister was in town, but also helps clarify his position at court. Finally, Lemke came full circle by pointing out that regardless of what was happening at the Zerbst court, Fasch successfully created his own version of a “Musenhof” in his music.

On Saturday afternoon, another new performance venue was introduced to the audience. The “Tempelsaal” of the former Masonic Lodge in Zerbst is an intimate venue, perfectly suited for Ludger Rémy’s small Capell und Taffel-Music ensemble. They wowed the audience with delightful chamber music for a variety of woodwind instruments, including the rare “oboes da silva”, instruments which Fasch is known to have bought for use at the Zerbst court. The ensemble repeated their programme on Sunday, 19 April, at the Baroque church in Burgkemnitz, which Central Germany Radio recorded for broadcast. On Saturday night, La Ritirata added lots of Spanish flair to German and Italian music from the first half of the 18th century. In addition to playing audience favourites like Vivaldi’s “Alla rustica” concerto, they performed a gorgeous violin concerto by Fasch – hearing it played live, and with such passion, puts any recording to shame.

The last day of the Festival began with a festive service held at St Bartholomäi Church. The congregation was treated to both the modern premiere of a church cantata by Fasch from 1736 and a cantata written by Fasch’s “Herzensfreund” (friend of the heart), Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel, court Kapellmeister at Gotha. Moreover, the Zerbster Kantorei and Cammermusik Potsdam, under the energetic direction of Cantor Tobias Eger, framed the worship experience with music by Telemann and Bach.

The 13th Internationl Fasch Festival closed with a delightful concert that included music by Fasch senior, Fasch junior (Carl Friedrich Christian Fasch, best known as the founder of the Berlin Sing-Akademie chorus), and the modern premiere of the Scarlatti Missa mentioned above, directed by Wolfgang Katschner. In addition to his ensemble, the Lautten Compagney, which excelled in two orchestral suites by J. F. Fasch, the alto soloist, Julia Böhme, deserves special mention.

Overall, the 13th International Fasch Festival presented a well-balanced programme with a pleasant variety of ensembles and concert programmes. The conference was equally stimulating; the papers will be published in vol. 13 of the IFG’s Fasch-Studien series. Looking ahead, the 14th International Fasch Festival is scheduled to take place from 20 to 23 April 2017. The focal point will be “From Luther to Fasch” to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. After all, Zerbst is only a 45-minute drive from Wittenberg, and was one of the first towns in which Luther preached; its historical significance cannot be overestimated. The scholarly conference will focus on Fasch and religion, a topic that is bound to capture the imagination of a large interdisciplinary, global scholarly community.

Barbara M. Reul

Categories
Recording

Bach/Mendelssohn: Matthäus Passion (1841)

Jörg Dürmüller Evangelist, Tenor arias, Marcos Fink Jesus, Judith can Wanroij, Helena Rasker, Maarten Koningsberger SAB, Elske te Lindert Ancilla 1, Chantal Nijsingh Ancilla 2, Minou Tuijp Testis 1, Arjen van Gijssel Testis 2, The Netherlands Symphony Orchestra, Consensus Vocalis, Jan Willem de Vriend
111:39 (2 CDs)
Challenge Classics CC72661

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]hough entirely recognizable as the Matthew Passion, and giving us an insight into the important role Mendelssohn played in the transmission of the performing tradition, there are some surprises in this live performance, captured on CD. The first is the overall length: the playing time of this version is 1:50 as opposed to 2.40 for Paul McCreesh’s OVPP performance of the whole work. The second is how very few full arias Mendelssohn retained: in his early1828/9 version he cut 10 arias, 4 recitatives and 5 chorales (though by 1841 – this version – he had restored 4 arias though frequently with shortened da capos) since he was keen to enhance the drama of what he believed to be the essential Passion story. Third, the Evangelist’s part is accompanied by two ‘cellos double stopping and a bass, replacing the fortepiano that Mendelssohn had played himself in 1829. For this he had used an unfigured bass part, so there are some rather tame harmonies; and some of the vocal part is smoothed out and cut too.

For 1841, Mendelssohn added a substantial organ part – a precursor of the exiting organ part played by Dr Peasgood in the Bach Choir performances in the Albert Hall I was taken to in the early 1950s. Most of the choruses are taken at a brisk pace, as Mendelssohn had suggested in his metronome markings. Where did the funereal 12 beats in a bar in the opening chorus of the Reginald Jacques’ Bach Choir performances that I remember come from?

Other things you would expect: clarinets or basset horns for oboes da caccia – effective with flutes for recorders in O Schmerz, for example – as used by Vaughan Williams in his Leith Hill festival performances in the mid 50s, and German-sounding broad-toned oboes rather than the thin French sound favoured by many modern orchestras. Having just returned from an illuminating day singing Brahms and Mozart with the OAE, I caught myself wishing that de Vriend had used 1840s period instruments for a performance that probably has its chief interest for readers of the EMR in recapturing Mendelssohn’s sound-world.

So this is not really an 1841 performance in the expected sense of the word, but a good and clear account of the 1841 Mendelssohn version on modern instruments, played with a good deal of awareness of historical performance style.

David Stancliffe

[wp-review]

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Categories
Recording

Cavalli: Vespero delle Domeniche con li Salmi correnti di tutto l’Anno

Coro Claudio Monteverdi di Crema, La Pifarescha, Bruno Gini
69:11
Dynamic CDS 7714

[dropcap]F[/dropcap]ull marks to Dynamic for producing this recording, which presents the entire contents of Cavalli’s 1675 print rather than a reconstruction of any particular Vespers service. Venice’s liturgical plan required a far more diverse range of psalm settings than elsewhere, and this set – in common with predecessors by Grandi, Rovetta and Rigatti (among others) – uses double choir so was probably written originally for performance during special feasts at St Mark’s when the magnificent pala d’oro was opened. If there are very occasional moments of instability amongst the voices, these scarcely distract from the stylish readings of this sumptuous, sonorous music.

Much better known today for his operas, Cavalli certainly knew how to write for large vocal ensembles and here the two four-voice choirs are not only divided between solo and ripieno line-ups, but in some of the psalms they are reinforced further by two groups of cornetto and three trombones and organ. While the players freely decorate their lines, I was unaware of the solo singers doing likewise, which I cannot believe to be a true representation of contemporary performance practice – surely, if only the very best singers found a place in the choir (Cavalli among them, of course!), they would not have wanted to be outshone? Be that as it may, I was excited to hear this recording, and I would love to hear the same forces (perhaps with more freedom given to the singers?) in some of the earlier repertoire in the context of a full service.

Brian Clark

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Velázquez and the music of his time

Choeur de Chambre de Namur, Clematis, Cappella Mediterranea, Syntagma Amici, Ensemble La Romanesca, La Real Camara
Ricercar RIC358
Music by da Cabezón, Cererols, Correa de Arauxo, Fernandez, Guerrero, Hidalgo, Romero, de Selma y Salaverde, Zamponi & anon

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his re-issue is aimed primarily at visitors to this year’s blockbuster Velázquez exhibition in Paris. It contains a wide-ranging selection of music from 17th-century Spain, but those with any musical interest in this wonderful period will probably already possess many if not all of the featured items.

There is, of course, some magnificent music and music-making. The fine Choeur de Chambre de Namur feature largely, in the polychoral splendours of Romero and Cererols, and close the disc with a splendidly lightfooted Fernandez Christmas villancico. The lovely Zamponi ‘Ulisse all’Isola di Circe’ was new to me – I’ll be checking out the disc this came from!

The disc also includes solo keyboard music, for harpsichord by Cabezón, and for organ by Correa de Arauxo, well played by Jean-Marc Aymes and Bernard Foccroulle, respectively, and is completed by several secular vocal items, including pieces by Hidalgo and Anon.
A major drawback is the lack of texts; the subtle vocal writing and word-setting is lost without these. To the HIP reader, perhaps best regarded as a useful pointer to delights to be pursued, then, rather than a disc as an end in itself.

Alastair Harper

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Telemann: 12 Fantasies for Violin TWV 40:14-25, 12 Fantasies for Flute TWV40:2-13

The Great Violins
volume 1 – Andrea Amati, 1570
Peter Sheppard Skærved
127:11 (2 CDs)
athene ATH23203

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his is the first of a projected series in which the violinist is allowed to play some of the most important violins that have come down to us. I suspect that, had I been involved, I would have argued very strongly that the recordings should also feature relevant music. So “disappointed” is possibly the best way to describe my reaction to the fact that this two CD set of Telemann is played on a 1570 Amati! What about all the fabulous music of the earlier 17th century? Then to think that some of the repertoire is not violin music at all calls the entire enterprise into question – is it all about the violins, or is the player really supposed to be the focus of our attention? A Fellow of the Royal Academy of Music (to whom the instrument belongs), and “dedicatee of over 400 works for violin”, he clearly has something of a reputation but I regret to say that there is little to engage me here, either in terms of the recorded sound or the way in which Telemann’s interplay of voices is handled – the music is read horizontally without any concept (at least as far as I can discern) of the importance (perhaps I might even go as far as to say “the existence”) of the vertical. His notes seem to suggest that Telemann expected the works to be played in sequence, with the brightness of one “immediately annulled” by its successor. I’m afraid this won’t be on my shelves very long.

Brian Clark

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Bach on Fire

Lily Afshar guitar
72′
Archer Records ARR-31962
BWV998, 1006a, 1007, 1009, “Ave Maria”

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]ll the pieces on this CD are arranged by Lily Afshar for the classical guitar, and are published in her collection, Essential Bach Arranged for the Guitar (Pacific, Missouri: Mel Bay, 2013). She exploits the technique of playing across the strings, rather than along them, so as to sustain the harmony created by single-line passages, as did early 17th-century lutenists with their style brisé, and baroque guitarists with their campanellas. Most of Bach’s lute music survives only in staff notation, not tablature, so it is not clear which technique was intended, but I like what she does, having had similar aims with my own youthful arrangements of Bach for the guitar.

The CD begins with a spirited performance of Bach’s Lute Suite no. 4 (BWV 1006a), which is adapted from Bach’s Third Violin Partita (BWV 1006). In the exciting, virtuosic Prelude, Afshar maintains momentum by omitting some of the bass notes present in the lute version, but which were not in the Violin Partita. She does the same in the elegantly flowing Bourrée and Gigue. It is not a serious loss, since the Violin Sonata was fine without them, and one has to adapt the music to the instrument one has; a mere six strings and a tuning largely in fourths does have its limitations.

Other pieces are the well-known Cello Suite no. 1 (BWV 1007), Prelude, Fugue and Allegro (BWV 998) benefitting from a sonorous dropped D tuning, and Cello Suite no. 3 (BWV 1009) including two modestly restrained Bourrées. The CD ends with an interesting and effective arrangement of Ave Maria, taken from Bach’s Prelude no. 1 in C major (BWV 846) from Book 1 of Das Wohltemperierte Klavier, with a vocal melody added 100 years later by Charles Gounod (1818-93). It Is certainly strange (but not unpleasant) to hear a Bach Prelude turned into a sort of Victorian Cavatina.

I’m not sure that “Bach on Fire” is a fair reflection of Afshar’s playing. She has a certain gentleness and sensitivity in her interpretation (even in the liveliest movements like the superfast Allegro from BWV 998,) which I find appropriate and most attractive.

Stewart McCoy

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