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Complete Bach Cello Suites arranged for guitar

5.0 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Audio CD, September 23, 2014
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Editorial Reviews

Review

Of the six suites Johann Sebastian Bach composed for solo cello (in 1720 or thereabouts), he later arranged one to be also playable on the lute. Nicolella is not the first guitarist to take the bait and do the same for the other five, but I can t imagine it being done more beautifully. On his recording of all six suites, years in the making, his playing is impeccable even in the face of head-spinning difficulties; and as the two-disc set's engineer, he captures about as ravishing a guitar tone, both lush and crystalline, as I ve ever heard on record. As Bach did in his reworking, Nicolella adds discreet accompanying voices to Bach's one-note-at-a-time textures and better still, knows just when not to add them: for example, in bravura scale passages, or in the pure cold water of the simple cascading arpeggios at the beginning of the fourth suite. (Some movements, in fact, like this one and the Prelude from the first suite already very guitarish with its wide-spaced broken chords sound better here, I think, than on cello.) On top of this, Nicolella improvises ornamentation (again, according to Bachian tradition), which adds further intensifying expressiveness and soulfulness. Every guitarist whether your interest is baroque, bluegrass, blues, or Norwegian death metal should hear these. --Seattle Weekly - Gavin Borchert

Of all the guitarists I wish I'd seen in concert, Seattle-based Michael Nicolella is a contender for the top slot. Having devoted much of his past creativity to presenting and expanding the contemporary repertoire (CGs passim), this 2014 release finds him exploring a baroque cycle that has long been fertile terrain for arranger/transcribers. The prospect is intriguing, largely because it's difficult to imagine how a guitarist known for his originality of thought is going to break new ground here.The clue lies in the track listing, where Nicolella cites the 'lute version' of the fifth suite. This he expands with the following statement: 'I arranged the remaining five suites with Bach's lute arrangement serving as a template. It guided all decisions, including key choice, the realisation of implied lines, as well as the addition and handling of bass lines and filled-out harmonies.' Rarely has a dismissal of unmodified cello-to-guitar transcriptions been so explicitly stated. This is borne out in the Prelude to the first suite in which, apart from the absence of those snazzy demisemiquavers six bars from home, we could almost be hearing the Bream arrangement of five decades ago. Add to this the resonant acoustic of the church where this recording was made, and we're entering a world of retro Bach that guitarists of the new generation are too young to remember. At least, we would be if it wasn't for Nicolella's astonishing mastery of ornamentation, the like of which we never experienced from any guitarist in the 60s or 70s. Significantly, the agenda-setting Isbin recording of BWV 996 is dated 1980. But although Nicolella shares Isbin's penchant for cross-string techniques, his application of this and other embellishments is entirely his own. Nowhere is this more striking than in the Courante from the third suite, where the already hectic textures are driven to the limit by a dazzling array of bells and whistles in the repeats. This suite is further enhanced by the rejection of the customary guitar key of A major in favour of the less incisive G major. Speaking of keys, I hope I'm right in assuming Nicolella delivers the fourth suite in B flat with the aid of a capo. If not, we should all be truly humbled. Brilliantly executed though it is, this may not be everyone's preferred approach to the cello suites on guitar. But Michael Nicolella's is the version I'd keep hidden while the bailiffs take the others. --Classical Guitar magazine - Paul Fowles

Michael Nicolella's arrangement and recording of the six Bach cello suites is a monumental achievement. No mere transcriptions, he takes the lead of Bach himself in the fifth - aka the third lute suite - adding basses, chords and even sometimes brief countermelodies to the original texts, even before undertaking the very separate process of ornamenting the original lines. Nicolella is amazingly resourceful and imaginative at this and has produced performance versions of striking originality. This is not to say that everyone will agree with his choices. When inferring harmonies from single-note lines, there are always different notions of what chords are implied and sometimes his choices are surprising, even disconcerting. So this is one area in which one can imagine controversy over Nicolella s work. Just as important for the listener is that he is not in the last afraid to be very expressive in his playing. He freely uses tempo modification, agogic accents, freely scaled dynamics, vibrato, varied articulations including legatos, and timbral variation. Dry and sterile he is not. If your taste in Bach runs to political correctness then this set is not for you. --Soundboard -Al Kunze

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Product details

  • Performer: Michael Nicolella
  • Conductor: none
  • Composer: J.S. Bach
  • Audio CD (September 23, 2014)
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Label: Gale
  • ASIN: B00NBJ9CQK
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #118,365 in CDs & Vinyl (See Top 100 in CDs & Vinyl)
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