JS Bach

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COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: BIS
ALBUM TITLE: JS Bach: Suites Nos 2, 3 & 6
WORKS: Suites Nos 2, 3 & 6, BWV 1008, 1009 & 1012
PERFORMER: Maxim Rysanov (viola)
CATALOGUE NO: BIS-2033 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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No apologies are needed for playing Bach Cello Suites on the viola. The composer himself transcribed the Fifth Suite for lute, and viola editions date back to 1916. Recent theory even suggests that Bach may have written them for the violoncello da spalla, played on the arm. Tuning for cello and viola differs only in the octave between them. And while Maxim Rysanov loses some of the tonal weight, the gravitas, of the third Sarabande, for example, there’s a refreshing lightness in his lively, detached playing of the second Courante and the lute-like broken chords of the same suite’s Minuet.

Technically Rysanov is virtually faultless, allowing him added express-ivity as he indulges in small but telling rhythmic nuances. One curious stylistic quirk: he starts some trills on their written note, discarding the frisson of dissonance where, as modern scholarship argues, they should begin on the note above. The Sixth Suite is his tour de force, in which he plays music intended for five strings on his four-string viola. Other violists transpose down a fifth, adjusting any notes that fall off the bottom string. Rysanov plays in the original key, maintaining an almost perfect dance-pulse even through the multi-stopped chords of the final gigue.

Excellent SACD sound places the solo instrument in the glorious acoustic of a large Swedish church.

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George Pratt