Bach – Werke für Laute
Harmonia Mundi HMI 987051, 2004
Recommended CD (5 Stars/5)
Although Johann Sebastian Bach’s works for the lute account for only a small part of his production, they are much – loved favourites with concert audiences. We immediately think of the incomparable and highly individual versions by Hopkinson Smith. As anyone who has attended one of his numerous concert performances knows, and in spite of the instrument’s limitations in today’s concert halls, these pieces hold audiences spellbound.
A pupil of both Hopkinson Smith and Eugen Dombois, Andreas Martin has selected for the present album the most introspective among Bach’s original compositions for the lute, as well as the transcriptions of the suites for violin and cello, all in minor keys and played on a theorbo built by Andreas von Holst after a model by Tieffenbrucker, a choice that has undoubtedly resulted in excellent sound.
Martin’s magnificent interpretations are both meticulous and generous in their attention to detail; with their exceptionally rich dynamic range and rare balance between the voices, they convey an unmistakable personality. Far from sounding cool or remote, the austerity of this version gives the recording an extraordinarily. Of all the versions I have heard, this is the one that comes closest to my idea of Bach’s music.
Subjective, and therefore debatable, though such an opinion is, I am sure we would all agree that, in the final analysis, all discussion of the great master’s lute music springs from the same source – the heart.
In 1996, German lutenist Andreas Martin accompanied Andreas Scholl in the well – received “English Folksongs and Lute Songs”, also on Harmonia Mundi. This was an auspicious introduction to the English – speaking world, but I have lost track of Martin since, and believe that whatever recordings he may have made have not been available in this country.
Perhaps I have missed something. Martin’s beautifully recorded Bach disc will serve as a re – introduction. He plays with a full-bodied tone, but also with admirable delicacy and sprightliness, as one can hear both in his meditative, but rhythmically coherent, playing of the prelude to the Suite in G Minor, and in the fugue that follows. Martin’s tempos are modest: he doesn’t seem particularly interested in demonstrating his virtuosity. Rather, he distinguishes himself with his subtle dynamics and his evident lyricism. It’s hard to remember that much of this music was believed even in my lifetime to be dry, and pedantic. Martin brings out the dance-like qualities of this Bach lute music, and its songfulness.
There are many other performances of these works, including those by Bream; and on guitar, the admirable recordings by John Williams and by Sharon Isbin. I particularly like the lute recording of the Suite in G Minor by Walter Gerwig that was issued on Musicaphon, a label that sounds like a hiccup. I still would go for Bream first, but this Harmonia Mundi recording has a warmer and more immediate sound.
American Record Guide
„Its wonderful to hear these works on the sonorous theorbo. The instrument’s long, unfretted strings make available an imposing low register that Andreas Martin uses to great effect.
The theorbo’s single-strung upper courses also offer greater clarity and focus in contrapuntal textures than the paired courses of the lute.
Martin exploits this in the fugues: the interweaving voices not only emerge clearly; they actually ’sing‘.“
Rings, American Record Guide
The Independent on Sunday (UK)
Though Bach wrote only seven works for solo lute and none of them in tablature, what remains is as beautiful and complex as those for solo violin, cello and keyboard. Indeed it is through these instruments that much of the music in Andreas Martin’s disc has become familiar: the G minor Suite (BWV 995) is Bach’s own transcription of the C minor Cello Suite, the Fugue in G minor an arrangement from the Violin Sonata of the same key. Martin’s theorbo playing is both wide of dynamic and glamorous of tone; his phrasing almost vocal in nuance. An immaculate recording, expertly engineered.