The Melancholic Bach

Review by: Jens F. Laurson


Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 9

“The Melancholic Bach” brings together bits and pieces from Johann Sebastian’s output–excerpted, newly combined, and arranged for viola da braccio and harpsichord–which exude, more or less, the wistful aspect in Bach’s music. In doing so, Emilio Moreno and Aarón Zapico have created an album of refined beauty, tasteful subtlety, and misty-eyed constitution. There’s a compassion and a gentility in their music-making that will play, with deft and soft hands, on the lighter strings of the inclined listener’s soul.

If you’re wondering: The viola da braccio is not a particularly unique historical, distinct, or exotic instrument like the viola da gamba or viola pomposa or viola d’amore. It’s really just the humble viola we know and love and appreciate for the jokes and for having been a favorite instrument of Bach’s. In their search for works that already included prominent parts for viola (or might have, in previous, lost versions), the two artists construed new sonatas out of raw material culled from various trio sonata movements and chorales from the Orgelbüchlein. To this they added a few select pieces for solo viola and solo harpsichord, respectively, to lighten the texture.

If there is anything missing at all from the result, it’s perhaps to do with the title’s heart-string-tugging promise of a “melancholic Bach”, when the result is closer to an homage to the viola-that-would-have-been-Bach’s. All-out melancholy can certainly be found in the composer’s output, but Moreno and Zapico do not actually indulge in this aspect. They don’t milk the master. In fact, there is a moment where they very easily could (and perhaps should) have done so but didn’t: The arrangement of “Ich ruf’ zu dir” (BWV 639) is taken at such a brisk clip–easily twice the speed of what it could also take–that it drains all melancholic aspects from the short piece, a rare miscalculation to my ears. The newly concocted “Sonata in F” (assembled from three organ chorales) also sounds rather more upbeat than melancholic, but who’d want to brood for 53 minutes on end?!

Moreno’s viola-playing is noble and touching throughout and the occasionally lute-like accompaniment that Zapico elicits from his modern Ruckers copy is a delicacy to marvel at. The production is exemplary (down to the chosen fonts for the booklet), as Glossa productions are wont to be.

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Recording Details:

Album Title: The Melancholic Bach
  • BACH, J.S.:
    Various arrangements & adaptations for viola and harpsichord

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