Baroque music by Bach, Handel, Couperin and Weiss
2012 Telarc International - TEL-33223-02
I have chosen a group of pieces from the baroque period by composers that have meant much to me over the years. All of them have brought me great pleasure both in the enjoyment of studying and playing their music and also in listening to their great works being performed by others. The composers are Bach, Handel, Couperin and Weiss.
Some time ago my good friend Hubert Kappel made a beautiful arrangement of the sixth partita by Bach and I have wanted to play the Toccata and Fugue, as it is such a magnificent piece. I decided it should be the opener for the CD.
As a complement I played four Symphonias, shorter pieces that Bach wrote for the keyboard (they are often referred to as three-part inventions).
The large scale suite by Handel is a piece which I transcribed thirty years ago and I have played it in many concerts. It has a glorious beginning with an Overture that fits very well on the guitar and the last movement is a Passacaille that is well known in several versions for different instruments.
Couperin has been one of my favorite composers and I have recorded some other of his harpsichord pieces before. On this occasion I have transcribed four movements from the 26th ordre, they have strange titles... La Convalescence, La Sophie, L' Epineuse and La Pantomime. Each piece has a very distinct character, showing both the depth and the humor of his music.
The suite by Weiss has been part of my repertoire for many years. The Passacaille is a wonderful piece that many guitarists have enjoyed playing and I have been looking forward to recording it for a long time.
I hope that you enjoy the recording as much as I have enjoyed playing this wonderful music.
1. Bach: Toccata (from Partita No. VI in E minor) (BWV 830)
2. Bach: Sinfonia 2 (BWV 788)
3. Bach: Sinfonia 11 (BWV 797)
4. Bach: Sinfonia 5 (BWV 791)
5. Bach: Sinfonia 6 (BWV 792)
6. Handel: Suite No. VII (HWV 432) - Overture
7. Handel: Suite No. VII (HWV 432) - Andante
8. Handel: Suite No. VII (HWV 432) - Allegro
9. Handel: Suite No. VII (HWV 432) - Sarabande
10. Handel: Suite No. VII (HWV 432) - Gigue
11. Handel: Suite No. VII (HWV 432) - Passacaille
12. Couperin: Vingt-Sixiéme Ordre - La Convalescente
13. Couperin: Vingt-Sixiéme Ordre - La Sophie
14. Couperin: Vingt-Sixiéme Ordre - L'Epineuse
15. Couperin: Vingt-Sixiéme Ordre - La Pantomime
16. Weiss: Suite No. XIV (Numbering by R. Chiesa) - Allemande
17. Weiss: Suite No. XIV (Numbering by R. Chiesa) - Courante
18. Weiss: Suite No. XIV (Numbering by R. Chiesa) - Angloise
19. Weiss: Suite No. XIV (Numbering by R. Chiesa) - Sarabande
20. Weiss: Suite No. XIV (Numbering by R. Chiesa) - Menuet
21. Weiss: Suite No. XIV (Numbering by R. Chiesa) - Passagaille
"... Russell continues to amaze even more with each new outing that we’re getting the National Enquirer to verify he really is from outer space. A dazzling outing on some of the most fancy guitar pieces to ever hit a fret board, Russell stacks himself up against the masters of history and comes out their superior. Have we made the point that this is a killer classical guitar record where six strings and ten fingers provide more than enough to work with and take it over the top? Russell lays down the law with this magnificent recording that is sure to take it’s place on many all time best lists. A winner throughout."
Chris Spector, Midwest Record Online
This is some of the most glorious baroque playing I've ever heard. That it comes from Russell is no surprise -he's been one of the guitar's greatest artists for several decades and shows no sign of flagging.
…Russell opens with the Toccata, a wildly complex bit of counterpoint and harmonic invention... He has developed an especially expressive lingering with some beautiful harp-like effects by setting passages on separate strings.
The remaining works are in Russell's own transcription, and the four sinfonias are amazing -delicate three part counterpoint, imbued with special lyricism in what could easily have been didactic pedantry.
Both the Handel and the Weiss end with passacaglias that are popular played on their own, so it's nice to hear them in the context of the whole work. It's also nice to hear subtle differences between the two composers. Handel had already started to assimilate an English lyricism even shortly after he relocated to London, while Weiss's more distinct Germanic character shines through. And the four excerpts from Couperin's 26th suite are just as carefully French in phrasing and tone.
One of the consistent delights of this recording is Russell's crisp and precise ornamentation. It sparkles like inlaid jewelry -mostly executed in cross-string fingering. These performances are all more beautiful than all others.
Hubert Käppel's performance of his transcription of Bach's 6th Partita some years ago was a courageous act that proved to have a value rather above heroism, bringing as it did a new dimension to the art of guitar transcription. No doubt its intense difficulty had something to do with the scarcity of subsequent performances. Now David Russell has rescued the Toccata from guitaristic obscurity and, as you would expect, turns it into an emotional experience to complement the perceived grandeur of its architecture.
Not that grandees is a term you would apply to most baroque painting: too many curly bits for modern taste. In music, however, it is a different story. Bach had the knack of integrating fashionable ornamentation into the structure: take it away, and you feel the building might collapse.
The other arrangements are by David Russell himself, an old hand at the game, always milking the musical text for felicitous phrases that allow his especial talents to shine through. All the old Russell qualities are here in profusion. For vigour, vitality, musical energy and a rare lyricism, you would be hard put to it to find his guitar equal.
The immaculate sense of phrase is something we rather take for granted in familiar Russell repertoire such as the Handel Suite, but it is refreshingly welcome in the less well-known Suite N XIV by Weiss. The final Passagaille is notable for its sustained patterning, brought to an inevitable climax. Being Baroque music, it is not so much a matter of dynamics but of a controlled emotional crescendo, of the sort that Bach used to such tremendous effect in the D minor Chaconne. If you prefer pyrotechnical displays, you will probably disagree, but for me the ability to recognise what is implicit in the music is what marks out the men from the boys, in both genders.
The CD will not disappoint Russell's many admirers. On the contrary it should further the high esteem in which he is held in the world of the guitar. Above all, it is a persuasive argument for the humanity of Baroque music. Bach's music is far more than an exercise in Protestant counterpoint, and it is players of the calibre of David Russell who do so much to convey the controlled emotion that lies beneath the surface.
Most people like the music of classical guitar, and there are few practitioners of the art better at it than Scottish classical guitarist David Russell. Maybe it's just longevity. He's been plucking the instrument since his childhood in the 1950's, winning major music awards and the hearts of millions of admirers all over the world. He has been recording since the 1970's, and he's been with Telarc since the mid 90's, this new album, The Grandeur of the Baroque, marking his seventeenth release for the company. Remarkable.
After his having covered the music of most eras, Russell returns to the music of the Baroque period, something he's done on several previous occasions for Telarc. This time, he covers five selections by Bach, six by Handel, four by Couperin, and six more from the less familiar S.L. Weiss, all of them in guitar transcriptions that work better than you might expect. Familiar music or unfamiliar, Russell handles all of it with consummate skill.
The program begins with the Toccata from Partita No. VI in E minor by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). It's a good curtain-raiser because while it is not extravagantly outgoing, it does afford Russell a chance to demonstrate his dazzling dexterity and prove his virtuosity without tearing the house down. The three Bach Sinfonias (Three-Part Inventions), Nos. 2,11, and 5, prove good counterpoints with their relatively serene, meditative moods.
Next comes the Suite No. 7 in G minor by George Frideric Handel (1685-1759). It puts us into a more directly Baroque world, with Russell taking his time with the music and letting it breathe naturally in a perfectly relaxed yet regal manner. The Sarabande is especially appealing, although for that matter Russell plays the entire suite so well, so brilliantly and elegantly, it's hard to pick a favorite selection. Nevertheless, La Pantomime also stands out.
After the Handel, Russell gives us the Twenty-Sixth Suite from Book IV of Pieces de Clavecin by Francois Couperin (1668-1733). These pieces seem more thoughtful, calculated, and contemplative than particularly innovative or memorable. Still, that assessment may simply reflect my own personal biases in favor of German, English, and Italian Baroque music over French.
The program closes with the Suite in D major by Silvius Leopold Weiss (1686-1750), an important composer of lute music in his time. In Russell's hands, the suite begins in a dignified and stately manner and then moves through a series of brief segments of varying temperaments. It's a pleasant and surprisingly catchy way to end the album. Indeed, some of the music sounds positively modern, and all of it sounds delightful.
Telarc recorded the album at Clonick Hall, Oberlin Conservatory of Music, Oberlin, Ohio, and released it in 2012. The sound they obtained matches Russell's performances in clarity, richness, and resonance. While it's only one instrument, it sounds like a whole ensemble on occasion, the acoustic setting and slightly close miking producing splendid results.
Classical Candor - John J. Puccio
This aptly-named guitar program consists mostly of guitar transcriptions of baroque suites originally designed for harpsichord. The “grandeur” of these suites was largely a result of their far-ranging design, typically beginning with something like the stately French ouverture in dotted rhythms that opens Handel’s Suite No. 7 in G minor, HWV 432, and then going on to include a varied spectrum of dance-inspired movements, including the Sarabande, a dance movement of markedly poignant or contemplative nature, in addition to livelier dances (Courante, Minuet, Gigue, etc). The Handel entry, one of the composer’s “eight great suites,” is remarkable for the majestic quality of its Ouverture with a spirited fugal passage in markedly quicker time, the unusually moving character of its Allemande, and the fact that it ends with a Pasacaiile, a set of increasingly intricate variations on a repeating chord pattern above a ground bass.
Here, as elsewhere in the program, David Russell’s performance is unfailingly high-profile and scintillatingly precise. For that reason, you might wish to cut down the volume gain from your usual listening level in order not to harm the delicate interrelationships in a work such as the 26th Ordre (i.e., suite) of French composer Francois Couperin. Elegantly phrased, expressive sentiments are the rule in Couperin. As in other works of this composer, we are provided with fanciful descriptive titles for the movements, which may be merely personal associations or a matter of whimsy on Couperin’s part, but often provide a key to interpretation. “La Convelescente” undoubtedly refers to Couperin himself, in a period of declining health, delicately expressed and deftly captured here by Russell’s performance. “La Sophie” is probably a corruption of Sufi, the dervishes of Persia whose whirling motions are reflected in the music.
Sylvius Leopold Weiss, the greatest lutenist of his day, is represented by a very handsome Suite in D major which includes some surprises in addition to what one usually expected of a baroque suite. In addition to its noble Allemande, lively (indeed, rather jumpy) Courante, dignified if restrained Sarabande, and quick-paced Minuet, we are given an unusual item in the Angloise, an English country dance whose footfalls are echoed in its vigorous downbeats. As with Handel, Weiss concludes matters with a spacious Pasacaiile that manages to wear its learning lightly, at least in the present performance.
One of the most memorable items in the entire program occurs at the its very outset in the form of J. S. Bach’s Toccata from Partita No. 6 in E minor, BWV 830, combining semi-improvisational figurations with deeply expressive moods that would do justice to one of Bach’s Passion arias. In Russell’s hands, this is truly a great musical moment. The guitarist devotes an equal degree of care to the four transcriptions of keyboard Sinfonias (otherwise known as “Three-Part Inventions”) that conclude the Bach section of the program. These polished miniatures are further proof of the truism one often observes in music, that it’s the size of the musical ideas, not their brief duration, which matters.
Audio Video Club of Atlanta
Phil's Classical Reviews
David Russell is one of the most sought after classical guitarists in the world today. Over the course of his career he has recorded over two dozen critically acclaimed albums. Not one to rest on his laurels, Russell again released a new CD in 2012 entitled "The Grandeur of the Baroque". His selections are a departure from the repertoire one typically hears on a Baroque guitar recording, almost entirely featuring unique arrangements by Russell himself. The only other arrangement is the opening track "Toccata" from BWV 830 arranged by Hubert Kappel. This is an incredibly bold statement for the outset of the disc, being one of Bach's most brooding and introspective works. Unlike a typical Toccata which introduces the key in an improvisatory fashion, the main thrust of this Toccata is an extensive and striking fugue. I've personally looked at the Kappel arrangement of this work, and can say first hand that it's terrifyingly technically difficult to execute. Russell however handles the entire nine minutes of music with ease, poise, and breath-taking interpretive depth. Following the Toccata several inventions serve to offer the listener a dramatic reprieve, then build towards the next major work, Handel's Suite No. VII, HWV 432. Like the Toccata, this work was also originally written for keyboard and challenges the guitarist to the absolute extreme both interpretively and technically. Once again, Russell proves his mastery of the instrument, delivering his musical voice with unwavering grace. The drama is reduced slightly as Russell then delivers four works by Couperin. They are a perfect bridge between the Handel Suite and the Weiss Suite No. XIV that Russell performs to close the disc. Less introspective than the Bach Toccata and the Handel, the placement of the Weiss Suite at the end seems to denote a sense of emotional growth over the course of the recording. The work is more open and overt, offering the listener a sense of joy and hope. Once again Russell's ability to naturally interpret polyphonic music results in smooth, soothing melodies that cross the entire range of his instrument. With this recording Russell has once again proven himself to be a true master of his instrument and a priceless gift to the world of classical guitar.
"Grandeur of the Baroque"
Russell with Baroque lute and keyboard works transcribed
Musicians of David Russell's taste and experience are like connoisseurs. When they perform a piece of music it's as though they're holding a netsuke or Meissen figurine up to the light and saying, "There, look - see how nature is improved upon!" So it is with Russell's latest recording, featuring revelatory performances of Baroque keyboard and lute works by Bach, Handel, Couperin and Weiss transcribed for the classical guitar.
But why revelatory? An acclaimed exponent of Romantic and 20th-century Spanish and Latin American guitar music, Russell has also made regular trips back to the Baroque. To my ear, he has always made a good argument for performing works originally intended for one-plucked string instrument - the harpsichord - on another - the guitar. What you lose in reduction and transposition, you gain in tone color, dynamic control and an intimacy that encourages a more ruthlessly efficient approach to structural delineation.
Russell opens with the Toccata from Bach's Partita, BWV830. The outer improvisatory sections are boldly realized and ringing with campanulas, the central fugue more reflective and dynamically complex. His account of four of Bach's three-part Sinfonias, which here form a quasi-suite, is the epitome of clarity, grace, humour and melancholy. Both the Handel and the Couperin are remarkable for evoking the harpsichord, particularly in the meticulously realised ornamentation, while fully exploiting the tonal range of the guitar. The Weiss, a long time favourite of Russell's, is lovingly equally convincing, especially in the nuanced realisation of the profuse style brisée figurations passim. Overall? playing that, unlike nature, could hardly be improved upon.
Release Date: 21 FEB 2012
Label: Telarc Catalog TEL-33223-02