Bach trios

The Strad Issue: September 2017
Description: Boundary-crossing Bach played on an unlikely combination of instruments
Musicians: Yo-Yo Ma (cello) Chris Thile (mandolin, guitar) Edgar Meyer (double bass)
Composer: Bach
Catalogue Number: NONESUCH 7559 79392-0

A trio formed of cello, double bass and mandolin may seem an unlikely combination but it’s clear from this disc of Bach arrangements (mostly from keyboard pieces, a trio sonata and a gamba sonata) that these boundary-crossing musicians (with 29 Grammys between them) have found a common focus for their talents. It helps to approach the disc with some willing suspension of disbelief – the bass-line notes on double bass can at first sound comparatively sustained relative to the plucked mandolin; and, initially, the mandolin seems either a lute-like interloper from an earlier time or a disruptive relative of the banjo. But the abiding impression is of an off-duty experiment with microphones happily present (and the balance is warm and up front). The Vivace of the Trio Sonata in G major BWV530 immediately shows how surprisingly well mandolin and cello can work in quick counterpoint, while Chris Thile manages to give the tune of Wachet auf natural, lyrical shape. This track also shows Edgar Meyer’s lightness of touch and Yo-Yo Ma’s simple, largely vibrato-free chorale overlay. Ma also impresses in his floaty upper-register lyricism in the chorale preludes Ich ruf’ zu dir, and Erbarm dich mein, the latter of which sees Thile swapping mandolin for guitar. And for thrill-seekers there’s the extended toccata section in the Fugue from the organ Prelude and Fugue in E minor BWV548, marrying grand gesture with high-octane precision. EDWARD BHESANIA