Slava Grigoryan interprets JS Bach Cello Suites Nos 1, 2 & 3 – for guitar

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COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: ABC Classics
ALBUM TITLE: JS Bach
WORKS: Cello Suites Nos 1, 2 & 3
PERFORMER: Slava Grigoryan (guitar)
CATALOGUE NO: ABC Classics ABC 4814553

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The mostly-single-line abstract purity of Bach’s six solo cello suites makes them playable on any instrument. On YouTube, No. 1’s bustling Prelude appears on sax, marimba, ukulele and more. With upward key changes, the pieces arrange conveniently for guitar, and have been recorded in original keys before on eight-string guitars. But Australian Slava Grigoryan’s is apparently the first such on baritone guitar: a larger brother, tuned a fifth below (A-D-G-C-E-A). 

The cello score is played note-for-note with control, precision and excellence. Ornamentation and elasticity is sparing – richness comes from the instrument’s sound, its dark, deep resonances hinting at cello or even piano, in No. 2’s Sarabande for instance. (So they sound thin on a system without good bass.) And the driving energy of climaxes, such as in No. 1’s Prelude or No. 3’s Gigue, has a weight beyond the normal-sized guitar. Guitarists who like their Bach dazzling may feel this a slightly austere, experimental curiosity. But it’s an absorbing new angle on some of the greatest music-as-music our culture has.

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Rob Ainsley