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Homage to Bach

Brodsky Quartet (Chandos)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

JS Bach
Homage to Bach: Solo Violin Sonatas Nos 1-3, BWV 1001, 1003 & 1005 (arr. Paul Cassidy)
Brodsky Quartet
Chandos CHAN 20162   62:58 mins


Mendelssohn and Schumann both added piano accompaniments to the D minor Chaconne from Bach’s solo violin Partita BWV 1004. And Bach himself plundered its companion sonatas, reworking BWV 1001’s Fugue for organ, and the entire A minor Sonata (transposed into D minor) for keyboard. So the Brodskys’ violist Paul Cassidy can claim a distinguished pedigree underpinning his appropriation of the sonatas for string quartet.

But how are we to engage with the result? As new works breathing the idiomatic language of a medium foreign to Bach? Or perhaps as arrangements in which the theatre of Bach’s implicit harmonies, the space surrounding them an invitation to the mind’s ear, are made manifest – the unsaid rendered said, and just occasionally distorted? And whereas the medium’s intrinsic discursiveness engineers a good fit with Bach’s contrapuntal imagination, the perpetuum mobile finales and soulful soliloquies, sparingly punctuated, throw up considerable challenges.

The opening of Sonata No. 3 works beautifully because, bar by bar, Bach adds an extra voice until four-part harmony has been achieved; and Cassidy creates arresting textures in the mighty fugue just before Bach plunges the subject into reverse. Less persuasive, though, is the finale despite some Vivaldian rustic touches. And its sibling in the G minor Sonata is also a little cumbersome, ensnared by incident calculated to flesh out the rhythmic drive.

The Brodskys play throughout with a gorgeously generous, lush tone that will instantly recommend itself to those who like their Bach ‘full fat’; those in search of extra light and shade, however, might yearn for something more Baroquely nuanced.


Paul Riley