J. S. BACH: Six Trio Sonatas BWV 525 – 530  – arr. and performed by Eliot Fisk, guitar and Albert Fuller, harpsichord – Nimbus NI2583, 75:40 *****:

Three Bach Trio Sonatas arranged for guitar and play by Eliot Fisk.

What was Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) doing while he wrote these organ sonatas? Musicologists believe these pieces were written in 1730, when he was age 45. He had moved to Leipzig the year before to take the position of Director of the Collegium Musicum, which he occupied for eight years. In addition to his responsibility for the sacred music for two churches, he was busy at home as a father. These six pieces are thought to have been written as exercises for the organ study of his oldest son (and second child) Wilhelm Friedmann (1710–1784).  J. S. Bach fathered seven children by first wife Maria Barbara (four survived to adulthood)), and another thirteen by Anna Magdelena (six survived). Bach’s first biographer, Johan Nikolaus Forkel, describes the domestic life of the early Leipzig period wherein he was fathering a child per year, as one where “Joy and sorrow were everyday matters”.

The music is sublime. The aforementioned biographer Forkel said about these six organ pieces “One simply cannot say enough about their beauty”. Eleven of the eighteen movements in the full set are re-workings of previously written material. The opening sonata (BWV 525, in E-flat) is sunny, energetic and playful, with a thoughtful Adagio middle movement. The second (BWV 526, C minor) begins with a familiar tune marked  Vivace, which is anything but. The second movement Largo is described in the notes as ‘moltenly gorgeous”. The next two (BWV 527 – D Minor and BWV 528 – E Minor) are both intimate contemplations, with the middle movement of the former, Adagio e dolce, later re-worked as the slow movement of Bach’s Triple Concerto (flute, violin, harpsichord). Second last (BWV 529 – C Major) features an unusual theme in the middle-movement Largo, and a short coda in the closing Allegro setting up a joyous finale. The last of the sonatas (BWV 530 – G Major) is described by the author of the notes (and guitarist) Eliot Fisk as “concerto grosso-like,” with a slow (second) movement Lente ‘one of the most adventurous  both harmonically and rhythmically of the entire set”.

Eliot Fisk (b. 1954) partnered with renowned American harpsichordist, teacher and author Albert Fuller (1926 – 2007) in the arranging and performing of these sonatas. The transfer from Baroque organ to guitar and harpsichord followed a prescribed pattern: “the guitar plays the upper of the two organ keyboards, while the harpsichord assumes the role of the second keyboard (right hand) and the pedal (left hand)”. Fisk originally studied interpretation under Ralph Kirkpatrick and Fuller at Yale and graduated summa cum laude in 1976, so highly thought of that Yale asked him to form the Guitar Department in their School of Music. He was Andrès Segovia’s last student, asked by the maestro’s widow to premiere and record original works by Segovia discovered after his death in 1987.

So Bach’s music is in capable and loving hands in a recording made in 1998 originally on the MusicMasters label (#67182-2) and re-released by Wyastone Estate Ltd. In 2014. The recording quality is excellent, but the album notes are skimpy, saying nothing about the performers. [There’s always Wikipedia…Ed.] Buy this for a fresh look at (or listening to) important works by the composer Groves Dictionary of Music calls “a genius …with supreme creative powers in which forceful and original inventiveness, technical mastery and intellectual control are perfectly balanced”.

—Paul Kennedy