23 February 2009

Plucking the Baroque: Walter Gerwig and Bach

I am a devotee of thrift stores, not least because it is easy to pick up great music for (ahem) a song. My latest find: a Japanese import cd (Nippon Columbia/Musicaphon, 1992) of Walter Gerwig's Bach recordings on the lute. The photo at left is the same recording, but not as cool as mine--my liner notes are entirely in Japanese.

If I didn't cruise the thrift stores I'd never have sought out this fantastic 1964 recording of Bach on the lute. To be honest, I had never heard of Mr. Gerwig before picking this up for a paltry $1.99. The cd transfer is immaculate and could have been recorded last week rather than 45 years ago.

Generally the lute, like the nylon-stringed guitar, does not fare well in ensemble playing--it is too quiet an instrument to be heard clearly amidst a group of players. But as a solo instrument in the hands of a talented player it is every bit as compelling as the cello or the violin. And it has a more versatile and varied sound than its descendant, the guitar.

Bach's music for the lute (and transcriptions of music written for other instruments) sounds best unornamented, particularly given the contemplative and quiet nature of the lute, and here Gerwig shines. The simple rhythms of the music are allowed to flow freely, and what might sound sparse on the piano (or, egad! the harpsichord) is refreshingly straightforward here. The Archiv recording in the YouTube video below may or may not be from these sessions (I don't believe it is) and it certainly doesn't do the Nippon recoding justice, but it's something I can include to give a general idea of the sound, though the analog hiss is entirely absent on the cd.

The cd is a generous 67.35 in length, and all of it is compelling. If you are one of those who prefers your classical as background music for turtleneck and cabernet parties it will work that way, too, though the sheer beauty of the music might get you talking about something other than the usual art party gossip.

If it doesn't, your soul may already be terminally damaged.

# Performer: Walter Gerwig
# Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach
# Audio CD (April 15, 2000)
# Number of Discs: 1
# Format: Import
# Label: Musicaphon
# ASIN: B00004SZWZ

1 comment:

Kurt said...

I have the LP, but this CD has an additional piece from the recording session, Suite for lute in G minor, which is almost 24 minutes long.