Yo-Yo Ma, Chris Thile, and Edgar Meyer: Bach Trios (Nonesuch)
★★ (out of five)
Hard to know whether to give this confection one star or five. The dominant voice is the mandolin of Chris Thile, an instrument probably unknown to J. S. Bach who never wrote for it, but used often in modern transcriptions of his works. It sits more comfortably in a Bach score than, say, a tenor sax, but that does not make it remotely authentic.
The other instruments at play here are a cello and double bass. What hits the ear from the off are clever, virtuosic trio adaptations of anything from a solo keyboard fugue from the Well-Tempered Clavier to an aria from the St Matthew Passion, and all things in between.
The intuition of these three musicians is so quick and the empathy so strong that one quickly ignores Bach’s original intentions and revels in the busy interactions between Meyer, Thile, and Ma. The aria ‘Ich uf zu Dir’, reduced to trio size, becomes all the more personal and ‘Erbarme Dich’ is almost a whispered supplication.
But once the surprise soon wears off the record winds down into business-lounge music, background noise so inoffensive you barely notice when it’s over since it has neither beginning nor end. Expect this to be played at many dinner parties over the coming year. Astonish your friends by recognising it.
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