Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Guitarist Thibaut Garcia’s Bach-Inspired Album

This past Friday the Erato label released Bach Inspirations, the second recording of guitarist Thibaut Garcia, who made his album debut a little over two years ago with the Erato album Leyendas (legends). Three of the selections on the new release are guitar interpretations of music by Johann Sebastian Bach. The remainder of the recording addresses how a variety of different composers with different backgrounds and tastes chose to approach Bach’s music. With only a few exceptions, these are works composed for guitar.

While I was very positively impressed by Leyendas, my own review concluded by wondering when Garcia would expand his repertoire into selections that were more contemporary. As a result, while Bach may have formed the heart and soul of this new album, I was pleased to see that one of the “inspired” composers was Dušan Bogdanović, represented by a five-movement Suite Brève, which serves as a contemporary reflection of Bach’s contrapuntal skills. Similarly, from a slightly earlier period, the album opens with the three-movement suite La catedral, by Agustín Barrios (Mangoré), which pays due respect to not only Bach’s counterpoint but also to the aria rhetoric encountered in so much of his sacred music. From that same time frame the album also includes a set of five inventions by Alexandre Tansman explicitly called Hommage à Bach, each of which explores a different structural foundation that Bach employed a prodigious number of times.

As probably just about every reader will expect, the album includes the Chaconne movement that concludes Bach’s BWV 1004 solo violin partita in D minor. Garcia prepared his own transcription, but I am not sure I would be able to distinguish it from any of the other guitar transcriptions I have encountered. Without trying to one-up Garcia, however, I have to say that my heart still goes out to those guitar students at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music who have learned to play this movement directly from the violin part! The other “Bach source” on the album comes from chorales from two of the cantatas; and the booklet notes by Emile Huvé observed that one of them, from the BWV 140 cantata Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (Awake, calls the voice to us), had already been transcribed for solo piano by Ferruccio Busoni.

Garcia also chose to transcribe Charles Gounod’s “Ave Maria" setting, which is basically a vocal line created to be accompanied by the prelude portion of BWV 846 in C major, the first prelude-fugue coupling in the first Book of The Well-Tempered Clavier. Soprano Elsa Dreisig puts in a “guest appearance” to sing that vocal line. She also sings one of the best-known homages to Bach, the opening Aria movement from the fifth of Heitor Villa-Lobos Bachianas Brasileiras compositions. Garcia follows this with a more explicitly-named homage, playing the third (in the key of A minor) of Villa-Lobos’ set of five preludes for solo guitar, composed in 1940. (There were originally six of them, but the last one was lost.)

On the whole, Garcia has done well with his move into more recent territory, even if much of that territory is reflecting back on the eighteenth century!

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