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BBC Music Magazine
August 2000

BACH: Sonatas & Partitas, BWV 1001-6

by George Pratt

BACH: Sonatas & Partitas, BWV 1001-6
Hopkinson Smith (lute)

Astrée Auvidis Naïve E 8678
137:00 mins (2 discs) £££

Arguably, nothing by Bach is fairer game for transcription than the six 'Solos for violin without accompanying bass'. He himself transcribed one for lute, and is reported to have played them on the keyboard, filling in the implied harmony of the violin line. From one he created an organ concerto; his eldest son made keyboard works of two more.

As Nigel North demonstrated some years ago (on Linn), transfer to lute is very effective. Counterpoint, full chords and distinctively coloured voicing are all more germane to a 13-course instrument than to one with but four strings. Though denied sustained bow strokes, the lute resonates richly. Smith's sound, an octave below the violin original, is alluring, soft and warm; and his technical prowess well-nigh impeccable: the expansive fugue of Sonata No. 3 is one of several tours de force.

Smith's realisation of implied harmony is sometimes unexpectedly rich though always stylish, and in places answering (for me) aural questions of a lifetime – the Giga of Partita No. 2 has never made more sense. Impressive too is his rhythmic impetus. If the first fugue is a little hard-driven, ornate adagios never lose touch with an underlying pulse, dances are sure-footed. Revelatory in both transcription and performance.

George Pratt

SOUND: *****



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