CHAN 9835
Chandos CHAN 9835

CD Reviews: J.S. Bach Chaconne Transcription

Orchestral arrangement of J.S. Bach's Chaconne for solo violin WoO.39 and other orchestral transcriptions of Bach's music by eight other composers.

BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, conductor Leonard Slatkin
Chandos CHAN 9835 2000 DDD 73:03

In recent years the trend towards historically accurate performances has tended to give reworkings of baroque masters by subsequent generations a bad name, but here Chandos have avoided the excesses of Stokowski to present nine orchestral transcriptions of works by J.S. Bach made by romantic and post-romantic masters. The earliest of these is Raff's 1873 orchestration of the Partita No.2 in d minor BWV 577 and the latest Bantock's 1945 reworking of "Wachet auf".

Raff was a pioneer in transcribing Bach's masterpieces so that audiences of his day could get to know works which were then otherwise unknown. His pioneering work is given credit by Slatkin in the CD insert note, which goes on to describe Raff as a "superb orchestrator" and his scoring of the Chaconne as "full of imaginative effects, counter melodies...and even tiny pre-echoes of Bruckner and Tchaikovsky".

This evident admiration is born out by Slatkin's excellent performance which brings out the majestic polyphonic detail in Raff's score and his instantly recognisable orchestral voice. Slatkin glories in Raff's skill at managing to be both dramatically exciting and appropriately restrained, all the while without compromising Bach's serene contrapuntal architecture. The work's complex tempi are convincingly negotiated and throughout the BBC Philharmonic's playing is flawless.

Listen to an audio extract This excerpt, from the central section of the Chaconne, illustrates both the power and restraint of Raff's orchestration. [2:11]

The other transcriptions range from a highly coloured Schoenberg and an unashamedly cinematic Respighi to Bantock's simplicity and a Reger of surprising directness and clarity. All are played with verve and precision under Slatkin's taut direction. Chandos list the Raff Chaconne transcription as the sole "premier recording" on the CD, clearly unaware that RBM beat them to it by a few months. The recording is a little distant, but nothing which the volume control cannot rectify. That said, there it little else wrong with this second airing of Raff's pioneering orchestral arrangement.

Thoroughly recommended.

Mark Thomas

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