JS Bach’s Arrangements for Trio performed by Yo-Yo Ma is the Chamber Choice

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COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: Nonesuch
ALBUM TITLE: JS Bach
WORKS: Arrangements for trio
PERFORMER: Yo-Yo Ma (cello), Chris Thile (mandolin), Edgar Meyer (bass)
CATALOGUE NO: 7559-79392-0

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Bach’s protean music has been arranged for the most surprising resources, from marimba bands to synthesizers and saxophone quartets. The unlikely ménage à trois here is cello, double bass, and mandolin – but it’s a winning combination in the hands of virtuosos Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile. Despite musical backgrounds that are poles apart, their previous collaborations, in cross-over projects like the Grammy Award-winning Goat Rodeo Sessions, testify to an exhilarating meeting of minds.

These skilled arrangements of Bach are bookended by versions of the Trio Sonata BWV 530 and the G minor Gamba Sonata, and include preludes and fugues from the ‘48’, organ works, and contrapuncti from The Art of the Fugue. Balancing instruments as different as the brawny double bass and the fragile mandolin is no mean task, but the musicians (and the recording engineers) judge the ensemble remarkably well. Bach’s counterpoint is sharply delineated, too, thanks to clean articulation and a dry acoustic – more jazz club than Baroque church.

Thile and Meyer, with their backgrounds in bluegrass and American roots music, bring an appealing swing and spontaneity to Bach: the A minor and E minor Fugues rollick like improvised riffs; there’s a soulful blues-like quality to ‘Erbarm dich mein, O Herre Gott’, and their soft pizzicato accompaniment to ‘Wachet auf’ sounds like a mellow jazz backing group. Ma draws a glorious palette of sounds from his cello, which sings and weeps and whispers.

Kate Bolton-Porciatti

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 Listen to an excerpt from this recording here.