French violist Antoine Tamestit releases not one but two albums of Bach arrangements in 2019: the viola da gamba sonatas and the Goldberg Variations for string trio. He reveals his innovatory and thoughtful approach to these challenging works in conversation with Carlos María Solare
‘Although I play the Cello Suites and the D minor Violin Partita, I find Bach’s Three Viola da Gamba Sonatas BWV1027–9 to be closest to the viola: they cover almost the same register, and even employ the same alto clef,’ says Tamestit, who has been in love with the sound of the viola da gamba since watching Alain Corneau’s film Tous les matins du monde (1991) as a child.
The soundtrack was recorded by Jordi Savall, who, in Tamestit’s words, ‘brings forth sounds that are very special for me and really get under my skin, particularly in the music of Marin Marais that is so prominently featured in the movie. These remain some of the most touching musical sounds that I know.’ These are the sounds that Tamestit is now looking for when performing Bach on the 1672 ‘Mahler’ Stradivari, strung with covered-gut C and G strings and naked-gut D and A strings, and played with a Baroque bow (based on a Nicolas Pierre Tourte model) made for him in 2011 by Parisian archetier Arthur Dubroca.
This set-up, which Tamestit feels helps him to emulate the gamba’s sound world, is not without problems, the uncovered D string being particularly tricky. ‘Even with a good brand, not all strings are equal, and you have to get used to the fact that pressure changes their sound. In a way it’s beautiful, because pressure becomes a means of expression; you get interesting kinds of vibrations – but it also alters the pitch, and that can be a problem!’
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