Review of Bach Sei Solo Sonatas & Partitas BWV 1001 – 1006 by Mats Bergström, Mats Bergström Musik AB, 2017
I know. Neuguitars is a blog dedicated to contemporary music. Why then do we talk about Bach? The answers are different but all lead to a single common thread and that is the question if a genius like Bach is only inscribed in a single historical period. It ‘s true, Bach was born in 1885 and these Sonatas & Partitas BWV 1001 – 1006 date back to 1720, thirty years before his death, but I think their “extension” is certainly greater. As a major, not to say infinite is the influence of the German composer also with regard to contemporary music and the possibilities offered to interpretations and transcriptions of his music.
This record by the Swedish guitarist Mats Bergström is particularly interesting because it collects all the SeiSolo, creating a real musical marathon in two CDs. It’s an almost imposing work, Bergström always manages to ensure that the six compositions maintain a tension, born from the respect of self-imposed rules, between a form that we could define as rigorous, inflexible, severe, complex and the content, defined as passionate and intense. A musical balance between interpretation, transcription, passionate research of an elegance that is not only formal but substantial.
“My ambition is as simple as it is clear: to make the piece sound as if it had been composed for the guitar. This means that I have tried to adapt the original setting for the specific range possibilities and limitations of the guitar in the same fashion that Bach and his conternporaries went about. The afore-mentioned lute version of Partita No. 3 provides valuable clues. The G minor fugue exists in settings for organ and for lute. the latter not by Bach himself. All of Sonata No.2 survives in a keyboard arrangement of unknown hand, as is the case with the Adagio from Sonata No.3. I have benefit greatly from being able to study these arrangements as well, as they were made by contemporaries of Bach, familiar with the practice of the time.” *
Faced with the great complexity of Bach’s works, the reactions can be different, you can flinch and admire the harmonious surface, leaving out the great river of thought that flows underground to his music, or embrace the great spirituality, pretending not to see the structural complexity . Or. Or we must accept his greatness, considering his music as a timeless variable, always exposed to new possible interpretations, and his musical scores as ur-text whose reading can always take place in a different way, open works where the risk and surprise is hidden behind every corner
“Playing Sei Solo in its entirety is a rare experience. which strongly influences one’s perception of time and proportions. A performance of the grandiose Ciaccona is usually a tour de force, but in this context it is actually just one of the thirty-two movements. albeit the longest one. This experience offers insights but also raises questions. For example, do the numerous repeats benefit the listener’s experience? In my third complete performance of Sei Solo I made the experiment to omit these. Right or wrong? In any event, the concert was significantly shorter! But what about any ornaments, which are usually saved for the repeats? For the recording of the work, I opted for retaining all the prescribed repeat except in the fast final movements fo the three sonatas.*
According to this key of interpretation, absolutely personal, Bach’s music can become more contemporary and current than those of many contemporary composers. Because their very nature is a-temporal. Because their very structure allows each time a different, rigorous, motivated and contemporary interpretation. Bergström realizes a mature record demonstrating a capacity for reading and interpretation out of the ordinary, combined with an essential virtuosity and giving the strength, concentration and introspection necessary to shape the various sections, creating a unique logical and polyphonic design, which leaves the listener astonished. It’s a beautiful work, made even more beautiful by the packaging and the booklet that accompanies the CD.
* Mats Bergström on the cd’s booklet