Strings Attached - May 2015 - The Whole Note
There are more Bach transcriptions available in a 4 CD box set of the works for solo violin and solo cello, Sonatas & Partitas, Suites, this time in transcriptions for lute and theorbo by the American lutenist Hopkinson Smith (naïve 8 22186 08939 2). The set is a reissue in box form of Smith’s previous CDs; the Violin Sonatas & Partitas were recorded in 1999 and the Cello Suites in 1980, 1992 and 2012. A theorbo is used for the first three cello suites and a 13-course baroque lute for the violin works and the cello suites four to six.
The two individual cello CDs were reviewed in this column in April 2013, but these performances of the violin works are new to me. They are naturally in much the same style as the cello transcriptions, with a good deal of filling-in of harmony – although an underpinning of the implied harmonic structure might be a more accurate description – and a softer sound and smaller dynamic range than the original. Multiple stopping is much smoother, making it easier to hold and bring out the melodic line. The English composer and guitarist John Duarte, in his July 2000 Gramophone magazine review, called these performances “arguably the best you can buy of these works – on any instrument.”
In the expansive and detailed booklet notes, Smith makes a strong case for transcribing this music, pointing out that Bach himself played the violin works on the harpsichord with full accompaniment. These CD performances, however, make the strongest case you could ever need. It’s a marvellous set.
by Terry Robbins (The Whole Note)