… The Montenegrin Guitar Duo’s arrangements are faithful, and no liberties have been taken with the score, other than to perform the music on the “wrong” instruments. If anything, as I noted last time, the performers might have embellished the repeated material more than they do, as doing so certainly is an accepted practice.
If you acquired the first volume, you will want the second, and if you acquire neither, you are missing out.
The excellent transcriptions are an absolute delight; the playing is warm and bright, with accuracy, agility, articulation, definition and clarity, all beautifully captured by the top-level Naxos team of Norbert Kraft and Bonnie Silver at the St. John Chrysostom Church in Newmarket.
Volume 1 of this outstanding two-CD set is available on Naxos (8.573473).
William Yeoman finds Bach’s music shining brightly whether played on guitars, recorder, accordion or a Cretan lyra.
Every arrangement of one of – JS Bach’s works expresses, as does every performance of it — and what is a performance, if not a kind of arrangement? — a hitherto hidden aspect of the work’s character, whether subtle or strong. That’s one thing the following recent recordings, of arrangements and transcriptions of Bach’s music for diverse instruments, have in common.
The second volume in the Montenegrin Guitar Duo‘s complete English Suites is every bit as good as the first, with Goran Krivokapi6 and Danijel Cerovie divvying up the left- and right-hand keyboard parts of the Suites Nos 4-6 while allowing for frequent swapping of parts.
The precision of ensemble, the clarity of articulation, the rhythmic vitality and the exuberant ornamentation recall the Bach-playing of Presti and Lagoya and the Assad Brothers, while adopting a more subtle approach to those changes in timbre and colours so idiomatic to the classical guitar.
Having previously reviewed English Suites 1-3 by the Montenegrin Guitar Duo in my November 2015 column, I’ve been eagerly awaiting this new release with the remaining suites. I was not disappointed. If anything, these duo guitarists from the Republic of Montenegro, Goran Krivokapić and Danijel Cerović, give an even better account of Bach’s high rhythms and close polyphony, requiring even more mutual sympathy and precision timing from the performers.
That rapport is all the more important in Suites 4-6 because of Bach’s frequent use of fugue in these works. The Gigue in Suite No. 4 in C major opens with a three-part fugal exposition before settling into two-voice counterpoint, and Bach’s mastery of fugue is in full force in the first half of the Gigue in No. 6 in A minor where it adds immeasurably to the excitement of this movement. Fugue is more evident still in No. 5 in B minor, where it informs the Prelude, with its restless modulations through a number of keys, and adds an uncommon amount of drama to the otherwise stately Allemande. We also have three-part fugal writing in the finale, a Gigue with two complete expositions separated by a brief episode.
As so often in Bach, the use of fugal technique adds muscle and excitement to the music.
Cerović and Krivokapić distinguish themselves further in the way they emphasize the character of the various dance movements that comprise the body of the suite.
The perfect balance of voices in the Courante of Suite No. 4 gives the impression of an animated conversation, while the Courante in No. 5 is even livelier, propelled forward by its energetic rhythms. And the corresponding movement in No. 6 has a walking bass underlying the melody. No “cookie-cutters” these Courantes. As always, Bach was experimenting with new ways to add ever more character to the sprightly old French dance.
The Sarabande, customarily the deep-water mark of a baroque suite, also differs in these three works, and the Montenegrin Guitar Duo are at pains to bring out their individual characters. It is varied in note values and graced with imaginative embellishments in No. 4, distinguished by a freeflowing bass line underneath the poignant melody in No. 5, and possessing a hymn-like grandeur and directness in No. 6, where its emotional range is extended by the presence of a “double,” or variation. The optional dance movements, or galentéries, are also varied and receive imaginative treatment in each of these suites. We have two Minuets in Suite No. 4, each characterized by a driving bass in contrast to their melodic simplicity. We have a pair of contrasted Passepieds in No. 5, Passepied II providing a more relaxed tempo and a key change from the minor to the major. The pair of Gavottes in No. 6 are sunny in character, Gavotte II being distinguished by its evocation of rural music making.
Cerović and Krivokapić do some of their best work in the concluding Gigue in No. 6, with sensational trills at strategic points adding to the excitement of the perpetual-motion rhythms. These very attractive arrangements of the English Suites, evidently made by the artists themselves, should be taken up by performing duos everywhere.
These are claimed to be world premiere recordings
Bach’s English suites are characterized by their quasi-improvisational opening preludes and dance movements, which contain a wide range of moods and styles, lively dances and the contemplative intensity of the slow Sarabandes. The performance on two guitars adds great value.
The fresh and historically sound arrangements for two guitars of these six masterpieces by the Montenegrin Guitar Duo were rightly called “simply ravishing” by the American Record Guide. The guitarists from the Balkan state remained faithful to the spirit of the original scores. Much has remained unaffected in their arrangements.
The requirements of the Suites are not overly challenging for a harpsichordist, but for a guitar duo the movements require a fast tempo and great virtuosity. Goran Krivokapić and Danijel Cerovic play the works in the tempi Bach intended. For guitar lovers and all other music lovers alike, these are two absolutely essential CDs. What’s more, they are beautifully recorded.
The final Suite, No. 6, opens in choral style in 9/8, with elegant, broken chords. This is interrupted by a sudden acceleration, leading to a brilliantly fugal Allegro. This is the most extensive of all the Préludes in the English suites. The Allemande that follows is, in comparison – with beautiful, contrapuntal writing and ingenious modulations – an oasis of calm and the Courante unites a melodic line in French style with a sparkling, running bass. The Sarabande, in 3/2, has a hymn-like dignity and The Double extends the emotional range with a filigree woven texture that creates a fine sonority. The contrasting pair of Gavottes with a perky walking bass accompaniment brings the atmosphere of a pastoral dance. The second Gavotte evokes images of wind instruments that play a rustic chorus.
The Gigue, in 12/16, is virtuosic both in the compositional sense and in the technical requirements it places on the performers. Bach’s incomparable and unsurpassed skill is on full display here….leading to the formidable finale. Pure, warm, intimate; in short, played fantastically. Magnificent! Not to be missed!
Loose translation of the original review written in Dutch.
Following on [from] the first highly acclaimed disc of Bach’s English Suites in arrangements for guitar duo from the performers of the Balkan state of Montenegro.
“As I commented when reviewing the first three Suites, they have remained true to the spirit of the original scores, with much of the writing untouched, and in essence these come closer to the sound of a harpsichord than modern piano versions.”
On the other hand the works are not unduly challenging to a keyboard performer, but for the guitar duo the fast movements require playing of virtuoso quality, and, with two performers involved—Goran Krivokapić and Danijel Cerovic—the interweaving of the parts to create Bach’s one keyboard part is fiendishly difficult, and I guess the four days of recording speaks volumes of the Montenegrin’s desire for total perfection. In addition, they play the works at tempos that we imagine Bach had in mind, so that in the Gigue finales they have the music whizzing along.
“For guitar buffs these are two absolutely totally essential discs beautifully recorded in Canada.”
“… you’ ll find the performances technically assured, interpretively nuanced yet free of mannerism, and very carefully, expertly balanced across registers and between voices. In other words, these are very fine realizations that lovers of Bach and the guitar will appreciate.”
“These are fine transcriptions, brilliantly played. The faster movements are played with infectious rhythmic energy and joy. Ornaments sparkle like firecrackers, and some of the slower movements are simply ravishing—listen to the sarabande from the second suite and be awashed in beauty!”
“Dynamic levels are nicely varied throughout, as are textures, … the Sarabande in the Second Suite is beautifully grave and dignified. Articulation is very clean and clear, and the clarity is enhanced by a modest (i.e., not “ping-pong”-like) separation of the two performers across the stereo sound stage.”
“Danijel Cerović and Goran Krivokapić have brilliantly taken the challenge of this ambitious project with quality arrangements, in which the guitars are harmoniously conversing. The original aspect of the keyboard pieces remains when listening, while honoring a way of playing specific to the guitar. The performance is flawless and accurate… This CD is then a must-have, and next volume is eagerly awaited.”
“Though Bach spent his life within a remarkably limited geographical area, his knowledge of various contemporary baroque styles was indeed expansive. In arrangements of three of his six English Suites, originally written for keyboard, the Montenegrin Guitar Duo translates Bach’s mastery of encompassing several musical styles within a single work through a new, refreshing instrumental texture.”
“Naxos has given us three of the composer’s great English Suites as pieces for two guitars, and I have to say that I really believe this works. Guitarists Goran Krivokapić and Danijel Cerović really do explore this music in a way that I had not previously heard it. Nor are these pieces my favorite in their original form, so there is something to be said about artists who can convince me otherwise.”
“like all great transcriptions …these pay due respect to the roots of the music”
“…both men play extremely well, and are quite naturally captured within the sonic picture.”