Maxim Rysanov

J.S. Bach: Suites Nos. 1, 4 & 5

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Bach's suites for solo cello have performed on the viola many times, and it's hard to conceive of Bach's having objected to such a practice when he arranged one of the suites for lute and was in general an inveterate recycler of his own music. The tracklist for this release by Ukrainian violist Maxim Rysanov designates the viola version performed as a transcription; the booklet indicates that it is the arrangement by British violist Simon Rowland-Jones. In any event, playing the suites on the viola changes them somewhat beyond simply transferring them to a higher range. The resonance of the cello on its rolled chords is lost, replaced by a lighter touch in the figuration and in the genuinely polyphonic passages. Rysanov makes the most of this lighter touch, producing lyrical, somewhat dance-like suites. This breaks the connection between the suites and the unaccompanied sonatas, which are indisputably weighty works, but these are very attractive performances on their own terms. Somewhat like violinist Viktoria Mullova in her Baroque performances, Rysanov steers a middle course between modern and historical-performance approaches, avoiding the ponderously old-style Russian approach to Bach. He's capable of surprises and variety -- hear the very quiet and marvelously sustained Sarabande from the Suite No. 5 in C minor, BWV 1011 (track 10) -- but mostly he focuses on the sheer melodicism of the suites and does it very well. With impressive SACD Surround Sound from the BIS label, this is a disc that should find a place in the collections of those who love Bach's suites for solo instruments.

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