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Jason Vieaux - Bach Vol. 1 : Works for Lute

5.0 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Jason Vieaux - Bach Vol. 1 : Works for Lute

Review

Bach's interest in the lute was reawakened in the early 1740s (during his time in Leipzig) after meeting renowned lute composers Silvius Leopold Weiss (1686-1750) and Johann Kropfgans (1708-c.1770). The Suite in C Minor, BWV 997, and the Prelude, Fugue and Allegro, BWV 998, were written at that time. The E minor Lute Suite, BWV 996, dates from Bach's time in Weimar (1708-1717); while the diminutive C minor Prelude, BWV 999, he wrote in Anhalt-Cöthen in about 1720.

Other of his works Bach rearranged: the cello suite in C minor (number 5) is BWV 995; the violin partita (number 3) is BWV 1006a. Neither the latter nor the C minor Prelude, BWV 999, is to be heard on this CD, which is entitled Volume 1. There is more to come, though Bach did not write enough purely lute music to fill another whole CD so it's going to be other arrangements.

For Jason Vieaux plays a guitar. Some listeners may find the sound of the guitar - less subtle, slightly more fruity, with quite different associations, and potentially louder - off-putting. It has to be said that Vieaux's playing is very sensitive: there is a delicacy, a gentleness and a poise that make the sound quite convincing. Though it necessarily lacks the lute's resonance and rounded, bell-like, liquid timbres. What's more, you can hear the performer's fingers slide between notes, and the movement of string against fret. Vieaux is tempted, at times, to let the "swing" of his instrument result in excessive vibrato and syncopation - the former can be heard particularly in the G minor's Prelude [tr.1] and the latter in its Allemande [tr.2] and a distinct, and rather jarring, twang - at the start of the Prelude of BWV 997 [tr.14], for example.

This is a very modern Bach, one reconstructed unashamedly in the belief that Bach is "for all time" and his notes can be played anywhere, anyhow. That's not to put it in the same camp as Bach on the Moog, mug or milk bottle. There are moments of pure delight (the middle passages in the G minor's second Gavotte [tr.6], for instance); and others (such as the first Gavotte [tr.5]) where a romanticism closer to Ligeti or Schubert seems to take over... some sense of pace is lost, the phrasing trumps the architecture and the perceived need to project mellowness trumps them both.

In fact whether or not you decide to add this CD (there are of course many precedents for this repertoire's performance on the guitar) to your collection is likely to depend on your preference for one plucked instrument over another. Many will want the melodic ideas of Bach to be conveyed through the rounder, spicier and definitely more genteel and deeper sounds of the instrument for which we know Bach originally wrote them in the case of BWV 995 and 1006a - or at least not hear them on the steelier guitar. Not to take anything away from Vieaux's expertise (which is considerable) is nevertheless to wonder at his rather anodyne approach at times: the Allemande of the E Minor [tr.9], for example, sounds more like a lullaby than a dance. This could come across as a laudable attempt to soften the guitar's attack and thus render it more suitable to the repertoire. At any event there's no doubt that the intent is genuine and honorable. Clearly Vieaux understands the milieus of these dance movement-based pieces, their cultural provenances and their places in the Bach aevre. What's more, no demand of tempo or melodic movement is too much of a challenge to this outward-looking player.

The acoustic of the recording (always particularly important in the case of solo plucked string music) is excellent - neither too dry and close, nor overly resonant or distracting: the instrument really is center stage without blinding us. The presentation of the CD is otherwise adequate, although the slim booklet (actually a folded sheet with relevant material printed on five faces, including a track list and background on Vieaux) very hard to read, being set in a font which drifts in size and is all in capitals. The CD has the air of being directed at Vieaux's "fanbase": he has a strong PR machine and personal presence. But such an appeal to the presentation of his "following" is both built on solid musicianly achievements (Vieaux is an accomplished and active teacher) and on his deserved acclaim in his field, which comes as much from his notable accomplishments as the image he projects. -- Classical Net, Mark Sealey, April 2009

Playing the lute music of Bach on the guitar is a particular challenge, one that Jason Vieaux professes to relish. The evidence here would seem to bear him out: his playing is rich with evident enjoyment, and his arrangements are expert. The recorded sound is excellent. Highly recommended to all classical collections. (RA) -- CD Hotlist, Rick Anderson, April 2009

The outstanding young American guitarist Jason Vieaux is distinguished by his pure, beautiful tone and the high rhythmic profile he favors in his performances. The Buffalo, NY native shows an uncanny ability to shape the tonal contour of a work of music with such clarity that there is never any ambiguity about what its purpose is and where he is heading. These traits serve him in good stead in his latest offering on the Azica label, a boldly conceived vision of J.S. Bach's Lute Suites, BWV 995-998, transcribed for Vieaux's instrument so idiomatically, we might believe they were originally written with the guitar in mind.

One of Bach's achievements in these suites was to incorporate the French notion of unequal notes (notes inėgales) into his writing for the lute (and by extension, the guitar), thus adding greatly to the expressive quality of the instrument and freeing it from its traditional role as song accompanist. French, too, is the basic layout of the suites, each beginning with an elaborate Prelude in a free style, followed by an Allemande in moderate time, a flowing Courante, and then a slow Sarabande and a lively Gigue, interspersed with a choice of optional dances, usually a pair of Bourėes or Gavottes (though curiously no Minuets, which probably didn't suit Bach's expressive purposes as well). The Suites BWV 997 and BWV 998, both include fugues as the second movement, evidence that Bach was continually experimenting and did not write to any pre-conceived formula.

From the very beginning of the Suite in G Minor, BWV 995 (itself arranged from cello Suite No. 5), Jason Vieaux obviously enjoys the great freedom of expression that Bach's extended Prelude provides him, and this spirit carries over into the following Allemande, which is far more expressive that we had any right to expect of this venerable old German dance form. And Vieaux is equally observant of the pulse- quickening tempo that characterizes the 3-voice Fugue in the E Minor Suite, BWV 996 and the sprightly dancer's leap that is preserved in the rhythmic pattern of the Bourėe. BWV 997 in C Minor is distinguished by its somber Prelude and by one of Bach's most beautifully expressive Sarabandes, in both of which Vieaux scores high marks for expression. And he obviously loves the challenges posed by the arpeggiated chords in the Prelude of BWV 998 in E-flat Major and by its four-voiced Fugue and the continually evolving rhythmic figurations in its lively Allegro finale. This recital is a joy to audition from beginning to end. -- Atlanta Audio Society, April 2009

Stream Bach, J.S. : Lute Works, Vol. 1 - Suites, Bwv 995 and 996 / Partita, Bwv 997 / Prelude, Fugue and Allegro, Bwv 998 by Jason Vieaux and tens of millions of other songs on all your devices with Amazon Music Unlimited. Exclusive discount for Prime members.
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Product details

  • Performer: Jason Vieaux
  • Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach
  • Audio CD (February 24, 2009)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Azica
  • ASIN: B001OBT3HA
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #192,096 in CDs & Vinyl (See Top 100 in CDs & Vinyl)
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