CD REVIEW: Johann Sebastian Bach: Works for Guitar


Graham Wade gives a serious listen to Tilman’s Hoppstock’s two-disc collection of Bach guitar pieces.

Tilman Hoppstock explains in his liner notes that this double compact disc set consists of “productions made over the course of 22 years between 1979 and 2001”; in effect all the music by J.S. Bach the artist has so far recorded throughout his career. He sees this selection of Bach’s works on the guitar opening up “like a kaleidoscope–the view onto different interpretative approaches from various phases of my artistic development and forms, not least a compendium of my intensive occupation with the works of Johann Sebastian Bach over many years.”

To this purpose CD1 covers the familiar pieces habitually performed on the guitar (once upon a time known simply, if slightly misleadingly, as “the lute suites”), with the addition of the famous Chaconne. On CD2, nine of the concluding tracks involve less frequently heard arrangements, the participation of other guitarists in a duo context, and two performances with piccolo cellist Rainer Zipperling.

As many readers know, Tilman Hoppstock is a fine Bach scholar who has embarked on a three-volume investigation of Bach’s Lute Suites, From the Guitarist’s Perspective. These publications contain dozens of musical examples, enriched by compact discs within each book that actually give a rendering of each highlighted detail. The work is quite an extraordinary achievement and emphasizes how Hoppstock’s evolution through the years of interpreting Bach is of itself a fascinating aspect of his musicianship which deserves close attention.

The quality of these recordings is first-class throughout and superbly well re-mastered, so there is none of the jarring technological dislocation that often afflicts compilations of tracks from various years. But even better are the moments of special beauty Hoppstock achieves at certain points in this program, such as in the Sarabande from French Suite No. 1 and the Prelude in C minor from BWV 997.

If you want blatant virtuosity combined with elegance,his Prelude in E from BWV 1006a, recorded1993, reveals a dazzling dexterity as fast and clean as any violinist. At 3:34, he beats John Williams’ time of 4:20 (1967 recording), while Bream’s 1994 recording at 4:45 seems positively leisurely by comparison. If one thinks Hoppstock is excessively exuberant here, he still plays the piece slower than the baroque violinist Sigiswald Kuijken, who rattles this Prelude off in 3:28 and the Chaconne in 11:10.


Hoppstock’s Chaconne of 1994 also burns rubber where he thinks it necessary, with an interpretation lasting 12:47, compared with Bream’s 15:47 and Williams’ offering 13:48. I cite these statistics not as evidence of anything aesthetically evaluative, but only as factual data which does affect our response to the music one way or another. Hoppstock, the new boy on the block in 1979, is now an international artist to be reckoned with and has been for a long while. If he has a turn of speed from time to time where he deems it necessary, he can also play slow movements with a commanding beauty of phrase and tone.

This is a recording which should be on every self-respecting guitarist’s shelf, no doubt cheek-by-jowl with Hoppstock’s published books on Bach.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              — Graham Wade


CD1: Suite in E minor, BWV 996; Suite in A minor, BWV 95; Suite in E major, BWV 1006a; Prelude and Fugue in C minor, from BWV 997; Chaconne in D minor, BWV 1004; CD2: French Suite No 1 in E minor, BWV 812; Fantasia and Chromatic Fugue, BWV 919/906; Partita No. 1 in E major, BWV 825, Fantasia and Fugue in A minor, BWV 904; Fugue in A minor, BWV 539; Trio Sonata in D major, BWV 529; Sonata in A minor, BWV 1020.

Tilman Hoppstock, with Wulf Grossman, Olaf Van Gonnissen (guitars) and Rainer Zipperling (piccolo cello)

Christophorus CHR 77392

 Click here to buy Hoppstock’s Johann Sebastian Bach:Works for Guitar