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CD Review

Johann Sebastian Bach

The (Unaccompanied Violin) Sonatas & Partitas

Arranged For Unaccompanied 8-String Guitar
  • Sonata in G minor, BWV 1001
  • Partita in B minor, BWV 1002
  • Sonata in A minor, BWV 1003
  • Partita in D minor, BWV 1004
  • Sonata in C Major, BWV 1005
  • Partita in E Major, BWV 1006
Paul Galbraith, 8-string guitar
Delos DE3232 DDD 2CDs 55:39 62:15
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Galbraith's Bach transcriptions employ some key changes: the Sonata #1, for example, originally in G minor, is transposed to A Minor; and the 2nd Sonata, 2nd Partita, and 3rd Sonata are also assigned different keys. For this and other fairly obvious reasons this disc may be greeted in some quarters with skepticism, if not outright hostility. I'm not going to engage any historic-practices partisan in a debate over Bach on the piano instead of harpsichord or over, as here, Bach being transcribed from violin to guitar (an 8-string guitar, yet). Suffice it to say that the composer did write the third Partita in a version for lute and thus must have imagined an expansion of all or most of his ideas here to other musical realms - after all, he conceived these works as individual components of a set.

To me, this recording is a revelation: Galbraith manages to impart more color and range to the music, I think, than would mostly any violinist on his favorite Stradivarius. Some might concede the point, but argue that the composer didn't intend whatever sonic enhancement one seems to gain here. In any event, Galbraith makes an excellent case for his transcriptions, rendering them with sensuous tone and deft insights that point up the serenity and passion in these works. It's not surprising he brings off these pieces so effectively since he sees them as a depiction of the Birth, Passion, and Resurrection of Christ, and he writes extensively about this theoretical view in the notes. Try his epic and sensitive reading of the great Chaconne in the Second Partita or his majestic enactment of the Fugue in the Third Sonata. You become almost mesmerized by utterly committed playing that takes you to rapturous heights, to levels where the music seems to transcend the barriers of instrumental limitation, the notes sounding native to the guitar and violin both.

Guitar (and probably lute) fanciers, will find this set of immense interest and importance. I doubt a better case could be made for the realization of these six works on guitar than Galbraith delivers here. Excellent sound and, as suggested above, very insightful notes by the performer round out a splendid release.

Copyright © 1998, Robert Cummings