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