Classical guitarist Slava Grigoryan’s latest solo recording completes his already highly-acclaimed traversal of Johann Sebastian Bach’s six suites for unaccompanied cello as transcribed for baritone guitar. Again, we find him in Mt Barker’s extraordinary UKARIA Cultural Centre, performing on a mellow-toned Jim Redgate double-top baritone from 2011.
The baritone guitar is tuned a fifth lower than the standard classical guitar, enabling Bach’s cello suites to be performed in their original keys. However, the sixth suite has a higher tessitura and was therefore thought to have been written for a higher-pitched instrument such as the cello piccolo. Grigoryan naturally performs this suite on a standard classical guitar (another Redgate); the combination of the D Major key and the brighter sound makes for a luminous end not just to this recording, which also includes the Suite No 4 in E Flat and the Suite No 5 in C Minor, but to the entire series.
As with the first album, the preludes, allemandes and sarabandes become catalysts for introspection and repose amid an unashamed savouring of the instrument’s – and the venue’s – rich acoustical properties. And while Grigoryan imbues the faster dance movements such as the courantes and gigues with a thrilling propulsive energy, it is in the bourées and gavottes that he deploys the widest variety of articulation and tone-colour.
In my review of the first volume, I noted Grigoryan was informed by notions of historical performance practice while nevertheless approaching the suites as a modern cellist might, alert to the timeless, abstract qualities of Bach’s music. This is also the case here, and there is still something intrinsically beautiful and defiant, something pure, in emphasising the predominantly melodic nature of this music on the guitar – which is unable to sustain tones in the way a bowed instrument can – rather than emphasise and fill out the harmonies in lute-style.