Peter Croton

Bach on the Italian Lute

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Bach's lute works, numbered from 995 to 1000 in Schmieder's Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis, or Bach Work Register, are problematical works. For one thing, they're difficult or impossible to play on German lutes of Bach's time; some or all of them may have been intended for the Lautenwerk, a bizarre hybrid that looks like an enclosed lute with a harpsichord keyboard attached. One, the Suite for lute, BWV 995, is a transcription of one of Bach's suites for solo cello. American-Swiss lutenist Peter Croton plays the music here not on a German Baroque lute or a Lautenwerk, but on the instrument generally known as an archlute, contending, based on the general influence of Italian music on Bach and other German composers of the early eighteenth century, that it could have been used for Bach's music. The restored 1640 archlute used here would have been an antique by Bach's time, however. He notes that the three lute pieces recorded here can thus be performed in the original keys with "very little adaptation." As a piece of investigation the project isn't very convincing, especially inasmuch as one of the major pieces on the program isn't a lute piece at all, but an original transcription by Croton himself (into C major) of the Suite No. 1 for solo cello, BWV 1007. Musically, however, the performances work very well. Croton's lute has single strings instead of the double strings of many Baroque lutes, which, he points out, "combines the inherent clarity of the Lautenwerk with the intimacy and subtle dynamic possibilities of the lute." This allows for very liquid phrasing with a minimum of noise. Croton writes that his early background as a folk and jazz guitarist enabled him to understand the rhetorical modes of Baroque music, and indeed his performances have a uniquely expressive, rhythmically flexible quality, a bit deliberate overall in tempo. It's not a question of direct jazz influence, but of an effort to embody a mood and communicate it to a listener. The sound is another strong point. Grasping the point, seemingly elusive for so many musicians, that pieces of this kind would have been performed in a small "chamber" with likely wooden walls, not in a church, Croton chooses a wood-paneled room in a Basel studio and creates an intimate sound environment that perfectly complements his performances. Finger noises are present, but aren't unduly amplified. This is, in sum, an offbeat Bach performance that likely doesn't resemble any that occurred in Bach's own time, but in many places is nonetheless very lovely.

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