Bach - Katona Twins
Channel Classics CCS SA 34713
Classical - Chamber
J.S. Bach: French Suite No. 5; English Suite No. 3; Prelude, Fugue & Allegro BWV 998; Suite in E minor BWV 996
On this disk we recorded two duets and two solo works by J.S. Bach. The duets were originally composed for the harpsichord and the solo pieces for the lute. Because of the complexity and difficulty of lute works, many support the idea that these works were written for an instrument called the “Lautenwerck” or lute-harpsichord (a small harpsichord with a similarly shaped body to that of a lute). We know that Bach possessed at least two of these instruments, according to the inventory of instruments made at his death. He was also in contact with one of the most famous lutenists of the time: Sylvius Leopold Weiss, whose acquaintance might have contributed to the emergence of these works for lute.
The English and the French suites are both a set of six suites, from which we chose the French Suite No. 5, BWV 816 and the English Suite No.3, BWV 808. The names French and English were given after Bach’s death and have, if anything more to do with French style lute and keyboard music, than with the English baroque style. To add to the confusion the Courante in the fifth French Suite is Italian with a rapid triple meter and not French.
The English Suites might have been composed for an English nobleman (although there is no substantial evidence to support this) but they all start with a Prelude, which has more affinity with French music (with the difference that Bach’s Preludes are composed in strict meter). J.S.Bach: Prelude, Fugue and Allegro, BWV 998: Because of its unusual three movements the “Prelude, Fugue and Allegro” is a highly controversial work. Bach wrote many preludes and fugues but this is the only one with a third movement, an Allegro, attached. Some are of the opinion, that this is a fragment from an unfinished bigger work. There is a group of musicologists however, who believe it to be a work, composed towards the end of Bach’s life with a theological message and the number 3 at its core. There is another Trinitarian work by Bach: the “Kleines harmonisches Labyrinth” (BWV 591) which existence strengthens the argument that Bach was applying theological aspects to the Prelude, Fugue and Allegro.
There is no autograph by Bach for the Suite in e-minor, BWV 996 and the primary source is a copy by Johann Gottfried Walther and another one made a couple years later by Heinrich Nikolaus Gerber, who was a student of J. S. Bach. The E minor Lute Suite is composed just like the traditional Froberger keyboard suite model (four basic dance movements allemande, courante, sarabande, and gigue) to which Bach added a florid Passaggio (a prelude whose origins are to be found in the improvised introductions to organ toccatas) and a lively Bourrée.
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- Johann Sebastian Bach: English Suite for Keyboard No. 3, BWV 808 in G minor
- Johann Sebastian Bach: French Suite for Keyboard No. 5, BWV 816 in G major
- Johann Sebastian Bach: Prelude, Fugue and Allegro for Lute or Keyboard, BWV 998 in E flat major
- Johann Sebastian Bach: Suite for Lute, BWV 996 in E minor
Review by John Miller - October 6, 2013
Classical guitar music is still very under-represented in the SA-CD medium., so a new disc from Challenge Classic's Katona Twins is welcome indeed. The Hungarian brothers, now one of the premier guitar duos, espouse a wide range of musical genres. They have already demonstrated affinity with Baroque music on their fine Vivaldi disc (Vivaldi - Katona Twins), and now turn to BAch and present a selection of transcriptions for duos and original works often claimed to be for Lute. Some of these pieces have already been recorded by Georg Gulyas in his two-disc Bach issue (Georg Gulyás plays Bach, Georg Gulyás plays Bach II), but the Katona brothers' arrangements of a selection from Bach's English and French Suites (originally for clavier) are rather novel and quite illuminating.
JS Bach himself was, of course, an enthusiastic and adept arranger and transcriber - a key requirement for his employments as organist or kapellmeister. Following his example, the brothers have taken two suites of dances for keyboards which Bach produced in two collections for his wife Anna Maria, who called them the "Clavier-Büchlein". There are two sets of 6 suites, the first called 'English Suites' ( BWV 806–811), which have little to do with English music of the period, and 'French Suites' which is not authentic either, as they also have little connection with French music for harpsichord around 1720. The Katonas selected the 5th from the French Suites and the 3rd (in the minor) from the English Suites, giving them new colour, grace and temperament.
These dances are relatively simple in form and mostly undemanding in technique. They were scored in two parts, left hand and right hand, and demonstrate Bach's astonishing inventiveness with such simple materials. As the Katonas show, dividing the parts between two players has the effect of making them into more of a conversation, a true duet, a relationship which is not quite so obvious in their solo performance on a harpsichord, where one thinks of the right hand being accompanied by the left, rather than separate parts. The guitar duet format brings out some new and delightful aspects for the listener.
Guitars also have far more control over individual note dynamics and tone quality than the harpsichord, so the brother's fingers can extract and shape Bach's melodies from his long lines of notes, giving them extra expressivity. This "singing" character of the melodies is also possible because of the warm resonance of the John H. Dick guitars used by the brothers. In some respects, this is a romantic version of the music, in a similar same way that a modern piano sounds in Bach's music. None the less, the Katonas still play these wonderful suites fully within the Baroque spirit, with clarity of articulation no matter the speed of notes. They are also quite rigorous in playing virtually all Bach's repeats, essential structural elements of the dances. While they play Bach's written decorations (mostly in the French style) with aplomb, they don't seem to do much spontaneous ornamentation. Courantes are swift and deft, Sarabandes are doleful outpourings, most eloquently phrased; Gavottes are cheerful and lilting.
Amongst the Dresden musicians with whom Bach had connections was the lutenist Silvius Weiss, perhaps for whom the Prelude, Fugue and Allegro, BWV 998 was composed. Written out by the composer in the mid-1730s, it seems to have an idiom like that of a large Baroque lute, but with textures more appropriate to the keyboard-lute, an instrument possessed and much admired by Bach. Nowadays. This instrument was probably also used for the Suite in E minor, BWV 816, which is also catalogued as for Lute and written on two staves, as was BWV 998. Peter Katona's arrangement of the E minor Suite is crisply rendered with evident relish of its dance rhythms and sinuous lines.
Channel's sonics, as expected, are exemplary, the Doopsgezinde Kerk in Deventer providing a well-controlled ambience for the duo, with a surprisingly active part for surround channels in multichannel mode. Microphones are not placed too close for the guitarists, but in any case the players produce relatively few and mostly unobtrusive string whistles and finger-sliding noises. Every timbre of the guitars is faithfully recorded. The church has a noticeable low frequency noise floor which is heard at track run-in, and on a few track ends or starts one can even hear some very distant hammering - a testimony to the high-resolution system!
This is a highly desirable disk of Bach's music, played with freshness, elegance and wit. It sports many attractive tone-colours to add to the entertainment. A very pleasant way to spend an evening!
Copyright © 2013 John Miller and HRAudio.net