J.S. Bach's six Cello Suites are most frequently heard as they were written, though these beloved works are no longer the exclusive domain of cellists, because they have been increasingly arranged for other instruments, especially the viola. On this hybrid SACD from BIS, violist Maxim Rysanov plays the Suites No. 2, No. 3, and No. 6, as arranged by Simon Rowland-Jones. Because the viola's tuning is an octave higher than the cello, the keys and much of the music remain the same, except for a few minor technical changes. Rysanov also enjoys the special challenge of playing the Suite No. 6 in its original key of D major, instead of the easier key of G major, which is favored in other arrangements. Yet the biggest difference lies in the viola's somewhat thinner, muted tone, which lacks the deep resonance of the cello's open C and G strings and the richer tone quality of its D and A strings. Even so, Rysanov brings a vibrant character to the suites that goes beyond the instrument's physical limitations, and he coaxes timbres from the viola that are surprisingly cello-like in their warmth and projection. Also helpful is the spacious multichannel recording and the direct stream digital processing that give Rysanov the best possible background ambience and reproduction at close range. While some purists will accept no substitutes, it's good to recall that Bach was a violist, as well as a frequent transcriber of his own and others' works; he even arranged one of the suites for lute. So these "Viola Suites" are true to his spirit, and quite likely were played on viola in his lifetime.
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AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson
|Suite No. 3 in C major, BWV 1009|
|Suite No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1008|
|Suite No. 6 in D major, BWV 1012|