Review: Bach – The Lute Suites – Franz Halász, Guitar

Bach’s Lute Suites still carry some dubiousness. Most likely, none of these lovely pieces were written directly for the Lute, and some are not even verified as Bach’s own arrangements. We know for certain that Bach did know and wrote for this instrument on other occasions, such as for some arias and recitatives in his passions and cantatas, but the solo works remain somewhat of a mystery.

Guitarist Franz Halász provides the four Suites in what BIS claims is the first complete recording of the Suites in their original keys, played on a 6 string modern guitar made by Julian Dammann. Many arrangements from the past, for instance, changed the key of the Cello Suite arrangement from the original G Minor to A minor for convenience, and here we are hearing the piece in its intended tonality. Two of the suites in this album (BWV 997 & 1006) were arranged by Ansgar Krause of Breitkopf & Härtel.

From the first prelude of BWV 995, which opens the album, Halász is an outward performer, much more exuberant than, say, John Williams famous version from the 1970s. He is playing these pieces to an audience, and the emotional charge that comes with this approach is omnipresent throughout.

Repeated phrases are added baroque styled ornaments which sound completely appropriate, and the rhythmic perception is steady without sounding rigid – listen to the subtle fluctuation at the end of the prelude of G Minor (4:40). Where Williams and Sharon Isbin are giving changes in tone color, Halász has a much more uniformity of sound from all strings, an approach that gives a sound world similar to a harpsichord, an instrument few of these pieces presumably been written for (some maintain it may have been written to the so-called “Lute-Harpsichord”). Slow movements are marvelously done, full of warmth without a hint of saccharine. In that sense, the second movement of BWV 1006 is one of the many highlights of this album. The polyphonic movements are technically impressive too, giving a clear-eyed view of the intertwined musical lines.

Halász performance is so persuasive, any discussion about the origin or authenticity of these pieces becomes mute, so this can be recognized as one of the best versions of these pieces we had in years. Closely and clearly recorded, this is a highly recommended release.

Bach – Four Lute Suites, BWV 995, 996, 997, 1006
Franz Halász – Classical Guitar
BIS Records, CD BIS-2285

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Review: Bach – The Lute Suites – Franz Halász, Guitar