J.S. BACH: Alio modo – Keyboard works transcribed for Viols – Fretwork – Harmonia mundi HMU 907395, 77 min. ****:
The group Fretwork consists of six players, and each possesses a mastery of a different member of the viol family. The group has gained renown for their unusual transcriptions from diverse composers for viols. Often, as in this case, the transcribed music was not originally written for stringed instruments, which makes the truly enjoyable end results all the more remarkable. Listening to these Bach keyboard works played on stringed instruments, the layering of the transcriptions for each individual viol is so intricate and seamless, I found it very difficult to convince my brain that it wasn’t the sound of keyboards making this amazing music.
There are voices out there who would complain that there’s plenty of work available for viols in the great scheme of things, and that truly talented artists shouldn’t waste their precious time bastardizing classic works. These are the same folks who loudly complain about opera arias being bandied about in the concert halls as “bloody chunks,” and these ruthless divas should leave well enough alone. I don’t particularly share their criticisms, especially when the work at hand is as dazzlingly intricate and entertaining as these performances. And exceptionally well recorded, to boot! Very highly recommended.
— Tom Gibbs