Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.
In the early days of CDs, it always was cause for special comment in reviews (and a high rating for sound!) whenever you came across a recording so realistic and natural it seemed as if the performer was right there in the room with you. This disc would have received that production accolade, and happily gets similarly high marks for its first rate, reference-quality performances.
This is certainly not the first time Bach’s suites for solo cello have been performed on viola–a perfectly natural adaptation and transposition, the viola strings identically configured, their tuning an
octave higher than the cello–and while there’s no definitive version of the score, there are contemporary copies of these pieces that enable an arranger/adapter such as Simon Rowland-Jones (in this case) to create a performing edition that’s both faithful to Bach and idiomatic to the instrument in question.
And speaking of faithful, violist Maxim Rysanov plays with a respect for the score–no distracting affectations here!–but also distinguishing his interpretations with a well-considered assertiveness in tone and articulation that confirms the viola’s voice as, if not equal in depth and sheer sonic power to that of the cello, at least as technically impressive and musically satisfying. Rysanov performs these three suites on his 1780 Guadagnini viola, and proudly explains his decision to perform Suite No. 6, originally written for a five-stringed instrument, in its original key–D major–in spite of the difficulty this presents for a player on a four-string viola. (This same approach was successfully executed by violist Patricia McCarty in her viola-traversal of the cello suites for Ashmont several years ago–read review here).
That “up-close and realistic” digital sound we marveled at back in the 1980s often had one drawback, due to the newness of the technology, or simply to the ignorance or unawareness of the production team: along with the timbral realism of the strings or flute or piano or whatever came the presence of the equally, frighteningly natural breathing and wheezing and occasional humming and groaning of the performer, or the clicking and clacking of valves or keys, not to mention the squeaking and screeching of fingers sliding on guitar strings. Thankfully, although we do occasionally hear evidence of Rysanov’s physical, breath-taking existence, it’s minimally distracting (unless you choose to clap on the headphones and turn up the volume).
Rysanov recorded the other three suites for BIS on an earlier CD, and it’s clear that in these confident, exemplary readings he confirms these works as legitimate viola concert pieces rather than simply useful studies or “borrowed” material for an instrument short on its own substantive solo repertoire. In fact, in Bach’s own time and place, “authentic” Bach sometimes meant recycled, re-purposed Bach–keyboard concertos from violin concertos; mass movements from cantata movements; sacred works from secular ones. The idea of making transcriptions or arrangements of Bach is as old as the composer himself.
Many violists besides Rysanov have taken on the cello suites (in several different editions)–but of course this practice doesn’t stop with the viola: Bach made an arrangement of the C minor suite BWV 1011 for lute, and indeed the lute and guitar are the instruments of choice in many modern transcriptions. And the ready adaptability of these pieces to other instruments or ensemble forms isn’t confined to plucked and bowed strings–or even to the world of the traditional classical music stage. Let’s enjoy a great example, from the Gigue of the C major suite BWV 1009–an energetic, sometimes feisty little piece that brings out the livelier side of two very different interpreters: Rysanov with his solo viola, and the Swingle Singers of 1964. Whatever your preference, you have to agree–it’s Bach, and it works.
-- David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com
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