With his new album on the shelves, the guitarist talks about the peace and purity of Bach – despite some noisy frogs.
It’s now a year since your first disc of Bach Cello Suites was released. Were you expecting it to be so successful?
It’s been exciting to see the first volume doing so well. The Cello Suites have always been exceptionally popular, of course, but it’s been very humbling to see it resonating with both old and new audiences. A huge thank you must go to Jim Redgate for crafting this gorgeous new baritone guitar and also to ABC Classics for being such a wonderful vehicle for this release.
Were there any lessons learnt putting together that first disc that you brought over to recording the second?
There were lots of ‘unknowns’ going into the first recording. ‘How were the thicker strings going to affect the right hand finger nails? Will recording at UKARIA Cultural Centre be possible?’ Thankfully it all worked out on the first outing and with a few little adjustments we were able to sail through the recording of the second volume. Special thanks to Shaun Rigney, the producer, who gallantly kept the frogs quiet outside while we attempted to record the Sarabandes at night time.
How are the suites on Volume II different from those on Volume I?
They are definitely more of a technical and musical challenge than the first three suites. Somehow, Bach created a natural development and evolution through all six suites without losing the purity and the sense of peace. The Fifth Suite is full of the darkest, most desperate moments and by the time we get to the sixth you get the sense that he really wanted it bursting with all the possible fireworks.
How does performing the Sixth Suite on a standard classical guitar, rather than baritone, change the feel of the album?
I think that recording it on a standard guitar was a really fortuitous outcome. The baritone guitar is too low to play the last suite in D major but this happens to be a wonderful key for a regular classical guitar. It was of course originally composed for a cello with an extra high string which makes it sound a lot brighter than all the other suites. That, along with a much more chordal approach made it perfect for a regular guitar.
Has your relationship with Bach’s music changed or evolved through this experience?
It definitely has. I’ve never really had the opportunity to fully immerse myself into one composer’s work on a project like this. The beauty with Bach is that there’s a mystical quality to anything he composed. The colour, the pulse and the scale of it can change drastically depending on the angle from which you view it. I’m sure my relationship with these suites will keep on evolving for the rest of my life.
Slava Grigoryan’s Bach Cello Suites Volume II is out now on ABC Classics.