COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: Deutsche Grammophon
ALBUM TITLE: Avi Avital Bach Concertos
WORKS: Concertos: in D minor BWV1052R; in G minor BWV 1056R; in A minor BWV 1041; Sonata in E minor BWV 1034
PERFORMER: Avi Avital (mandolin); Shalev Ad-El (harpsichord); Ophira Zakai (theorbo); Ira Givol (cello); Kammerakademie Potsdam
CATALOGUE NO: 4790092
Avi Avital is a virtuoso mandolin player, determined to put his instrument on to the musical map. Here he plays Bach concertos: one for violin, the other two for harpsichord, though probably originally written for violin and oboe respectively. Violin ‘restorations’ already exist for these concertos and so all three works transfer well to the mandolin, tuned like the violin. The resulting sound is entrancing. Avital stylishly meets the challenge of moulding plectrum-plucked sound into long, shapely phrases and figurations. The slow movement of the Concerto in G minor, BWV 1056R is heavenly, the brighter plectrum of the mandolin singing out above the subdued pizzicato of the orchestral strings. Equally, the singing upper line above arpeggiated broken chords in the Concerto in A minor, BWV 1041’s final movement is a moment of pure technical genius.
One enduring challenge is matching the scale of the mandolin to the orchestra of 24 strings (not listed here, but shown in the photograph). When Bach (uniquely among his contemporaries) buries complex musical interest deep within the orchestra, so much is happening that the mandolin retreats, at times almost lost within the textures. Small adjustments to dynamics, tonal weight and recording balance would greatly clarify the detail.
With only solo cello and theorbo in the Sonata, Avital’s mandolin is hauntingly beautiful, putting this firmly on the wish-list of any Baroque enthusiast.