ARs FCD 368 388
ARs FCD 368 388

CD Reviews: J.S. Bach Cello Suite transcription

"Bach Transcriptions" - six piano transcriptions of music by J.S. Bach including Raff's transcription of the Suite No.1 for solo cello WoO.30 no.1

Alexander Zolotarev, piano
Ars FCD 368 388 2000 DDD 58:38

It's good to see Raff getting equal billing with Brahms, Rachmaninov and Saint-Saëns on the cover of this CD - and entirely justified too. His captivating transcription of the first of Bach's solo Cello Suites is another valuable addition to the Raff repertoire on CD.

Raff was in the forefront of those re-introducing baroque music to performers and audiences and his Bach transcriptions were amongst the first to be produced. His purpose was to make Bach accessible but not to turn him into a "romantic" in the process - rather to introduce just enough of the musical language of the 19th. century to reveal his true worth to Raff's contemporaries. In his piano transcriptions of Bach's works for solo string instruments, Raff generally added subtle counter melodies, fleshed out harmonies and added contrapuntal textures whilst allowing Bach's original string writing, suitably transposed, to remain intact and dominant.

His principle of discretely enhancing, but never obscuring, the spartan splendour of these six suites is well demonstrated in five of the first suite's six movements. The exception is the opening Prelude - arguably the best known piece of all amongst Bach's originals. Here Raff adds a simple, beautiful and stubbornly memorable counter melody, reducing the original cello line to accompaniment - rather reminiscent of the Bach-Gounod "Ave Maria" but without the cloying sentimentality. Alexander Zolotarev brings off its delicate balance of the baroque and romantic very well - especially so in the final few bars where Raff's addition returns in even more dominant form.

His task is made easier by Raff in the other five movements, as he reverts to presenting the Bach in his more usual, unobtrusive way - subtly enhancing the original cello line without overpowering it. Throughout, Zolotarev plays with a sensitive mixture of romantic feeling and baroque precision, never pretending that these are Bach originals, but never denying their baroque source. His tempi are well chosen and his piano tone is appropriately sonorous for these works written at the height of the romantic era.

Listen to an audio excerpt The excerpt is the 1st. movement Prelude of the Suite No.1 [2:36]

The arrangements by other composers include Brahms' left hand transcription of the great Violin Chaconne which is played with a mixture of sensitivity and panache sadly lacking from Walid Akl's recently re-released performance (Pavane ADW 7255). The Rachmaninov and Saint-Saëns contributions to the genre are also excellently presented by Zolotarev.

The recording quality itself is fine - a nice intimate ambience is present, entirely appropriate for this music which, in Raff's case at least, was written to make Bach accessible to talented home performers.

All in all, a welcome addition to the Raff recorded repertoire from a very promising pianist.

Mark Thomas

If you are finding it difficult to buy this CD,the "Where to buy CDs" page may help.
Do you disagree with this review, or would like to air your own opinions of the CD? Why not submit your own review?

© 1999-2017 Mark Thomas. All rights reserved.