Tuesday 30 September 2014

Bach transcriptions for guitar

Bach on Fire - Lily Afshar
J.S Bach, guitar arrangements by Lily Afshar; Lily Afshar; Archer Records
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 15 2014
Star rating: 4.0

New arrangements of Bach for the guitar by talented young guitarist

Performing any sort of baroque music on modern instruments involves an element of transcription. instruments have changed so much, or disappeared altogether - who plays the arpeggione now? On this new disc guitarist Lily Afshar has made a virtue of necessity and made new transcriptions for the guitar of a number of Bach works. She includes Bach's Lute Suite No. 4 in E major BWV 1006a, but also the Cello Suite No. 1 BWV 1007, Cello Suite No. 3 BWV 1009 and the Prelude, Allegro and Fugue BWV 998.

In fact Bach was a great transcriber himself and the Lute Suite No. 4 started out as the Partita No. 3 BWV 1006 for solo violin. Transcription and re-use runs through the whole of Bach's career. Some works, such as the harpsichord concertos, we know only in the later transcriptions, the originals having been lost. And before you worry about moving a cello part to a guitar, just think about transcribing a work for violin and oboe for two harpsichords (the Concerto for two harpsichords in C minor BWV1060 started out as a concerto for violin and oboe).
Bach wrote his lute works as a result of friendship with the Dresden court lutenist Sylvius Leopold Weiss (1687 - 1750) and Bach himself owned a lute. He was also involved in the development of the lute-harpsichord, for which instrument Bach wrote the Prelude, Allegro and Fugue BWV 998. This is a work where Bach was able to combine the sound quality of the lute with the contrapuntal abilities of the guitar.

In these new transcriptions Afshar has faced the art of transcription head on. As with Busoni's transcription of Bach's solo violin Chaconne for piano, Afshar has re-worked the pieces for the modern guitar using contemporary cross-string fingering and a greater degree of dynamics and ornamentation than would occur in a baroque piece. She has added bass notes to some pieces and re-worked textures. I miss the dark intensity of the cello version of the cello suites, but then I am listening to them on a modern cello with metal strings and a modern bow.

Afshar brings out the underlying dance feel to the music, giving it a fluidity, litheness and infectious bounce. Textures are delicate and busy, but quite enchanting. She is well able also to sustain a lovely singing line; and I suspect that some of the movements are technically quite challenging but Afshar's performance is delightfully laid back.

This isn't a disc for the purist, but then again Bach did not write any guitar music. Instead we get a fresh modern take on Bach for the guitar and some fine playing

Bach on Fire
Arranged for the guitar by Lily Afshar
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1739) - Lute Suite No. 4 in E major, BWV 1006A
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1739) - Cello Stuie No. 1 BWV 1007
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1739) - Prelude, Fugue and Allegro BWV 998
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1739) - Cello Suite No. 3 BWV 1009
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1739)/ Charles Gounod - Ave Maria
Lily Afshar (guitar)
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