You may think it repertoire raiding but there’s a surprisingly long tradition of playing these suites on viola; we don’t know if they were played thus in Bach’s day but there was a modern transcription published back in 1916. Authenticity is irrelevant here as Bach himself happily rehashed his own material to suit the circumstances and as a colleague once observed “more than any other composer Bach remains Bach even if you play him on a kazoo”.

Maxim Rysanov follows up his superb 2010 recording of Suites 1, 4 & 5 and makes it abundantly clear why he is the current golden boy of the viola scene. Playing a magnificent Guadagnini instrument from 1780 his tone is in the clean bright modern manner rather than the dark and dusky. I have rarely heard these pieces played with such a nimble lightness of touch and it makes a startling contrast to my current cello benchmark, Pieter Wispelwey’s extraordinary recent recording in low baroque pitch with its dark umber shading and gravitas.

Rysanov’s style is a balance of bold gestures tempered by period manners with the preludes tossed off with improvisatory dash and dance rhythms beautifully pointed. He daringly plays the sixth suite in its original key of D (viola transcribers usually drop it down a fifth to G so it sits better on the instrument) and despite the treacherously high positions dispatches the piece with seeming ease – this performance will make other violists blanch.


Contribute to Limelight and support independent arts journalism.