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William Carter - Bach Reimagines Bach - Planet Hugill

13 June 2017
Planet Hugill
Robert Hugill
5 Stars

Bach was a great re-imaginer and re-user of musical material, sometimes re-casting music in radically different forms and none more so when he took the music for unaccompanied violin or cello and re-cast it for the lute. On this disc from Linn Records lutenist William Carter plays Bach's Suite in E major, BWV 1006a and Suite in G minor, BWV 995 plus the Sonata in G minor, BWV 1001.

There is much discussion about Bach the composer for the lute and Bach the lutenist. He is never known to have played the lute but possessed a very valuable one (worth three times as much as his most valuable violin). But then, as William Carter in his booklet article points out, whilst Bach was known to play the violin the only record we have of him playing the solo violin music was on the harpsichord. As well as discussing the music itself, Carter lucidly talks about Bach's writing style for the lute which, as with much of Bach's writing elsewhere, takes little account of the fallibilities of the performer.

Bach almost certainly wrote a great deal for the lute, of which we only possess a fragment. In the 1761 Breitkopf Music Catalogue, Bach advertised 'Three Partitas for solo lute, volume 1', all lost alas. Though Carter wonders whether the survival of a version of the 'Fuga' from the First Sonata for Unaccompanied violin in lute tablature in a manuscript by Bach's friend JC Weyrauch might be related to these lost pieces. Carter has completed the sonata with his own arrangements of the other movements, not adding much more than an occasional bass note (as we know Bach did when he played the suites on harpsichord). Carter follows this with two suites which we have in Bach's own manuscript. The Suite in E major, BWV 1006a which is an arrangement of the Partita for solo violin, BWV 1006, the opening prelude of which pops up in various incarnations in Bach's works. In the lute m/s Bach brings out the French style, adding an abundance of French ornamentation in the Prelude. The final work on the disc is the Suite in G minor, BWV 995, Bach's version of the Fifth Cello Suite in a re-imagining which effectively makes a new work, and which exceeds the normal range of the lute at the time!

Carter plays the music with a lovely relaxed intimacy, re-making the performances for the lute rather than trying to evoke the string originals. It is remarkable how much sustaining power he can bring to the melodic lines when necessary, combining this with expressively elegant textures. The dance rhythms of the music often comes out, inevitably perhaps given the lute's association with music for the dance. But the darker elements, such as the 'Sarabande' from the Suite in G minor, are present too.

Carter brings a confident sense of style and elegance to the music, never letting on quite how challenging the writing can be and giving us an effortless lesson in re-creating Bach on another instrument.

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