GRAMMY® Award-winning guitarist David Russell returns with Air on a G String, baroque masterpieces by Bach, Couperin, Saint-Luc, and Weiss performed on guitar.
With the great strides in the technology of instrument building and the solidification of the modern harmonic system during the late-17th and early-18th centuries, instrumental music flourished during the Baroque period. Russell’s Air on a G String brings together works by Jacques de Saint-Luc and Silvius Leopold Weiss, two of the master lutenists of that era, as well as his transcriptions for guitar of varied compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach and François Couperin.
Opening this recital program is J.S. Bach’s (1685-1750) Partita in A minor (BWV 1013), which was originally conceived around 1720 for unaccompanied flute. This stunning arrangement for guitar by Russell further underscores the beauty of what was originally written as a single line of music. With the complexities of Bach’s music, Russell sets a high standard for other guitarists to follow.
Silvius Leopold Weiss, born in Breslau (now Wroclaw, Poland) in 1686, was the most renowned member of Germany’s leading family of lutenists during the time of Johann Sebastian Bach. Weiss wrote well over eight hundred pieces for lute – more than any other composer – including some sixty solo “sonatas” (really suites in the Baroque manner, comprising a prelude and a series of stylized dance movements), several concertos, lute duets, and numerous independent pieces.
The date of Bach’s four-movement Pastorale in F major (BWV 590) is uncertain – perhaps as early as 1705, when he was organist at the New Church in Arnstadt, or perhaps as late as the 1730s, when he was well established in Leipzig. The work takes its title from the opening movement, which is based on the model of the Italian pastorale, whose gentle, swaying rhythms and sweet melody recall the Italian shepherds who entered the towns at Christmas time to play their rustic pipes before the manger scenes set up at churches and other public places.
The Flemish lutenist and composer Jacques de Saint-Luc was born in 1616 in Ath, twenty miles southwest of Brussels and not far from Belgium’s present-day border with France. Saint-Luc wrote the suite titled La Prise de Gaeta (The Capture of Gaeta) to honor a victory in Italy in 1707 by his patron, Eugene of Savoy. Saint-Luc’s suite includes a traditional series of Baroque dances – Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, Gigue (which, the composer noted, is “à la Manière Anglaise”), Minuet, Passepied – before closing with a march-like Rigaudon pour les Trompettes and a Caprice en Passacaille (Caprice in the Form of a Passacaglia) built on a repeating bass pattern.
François Couperin (1668-1733), nicknamed even during his lifetime “le grand” (The Great), was the most important member of a family of musicians prominent around Paris from the late-16th century to the mid-19th century. Couperin’s Les Silvains (The Woodland Fauns, Book I of Pièces de Clavecin , Ordre 1, No. 8) is one of his earliest keyboard works of the pastoralism that figured so prominently in 18th-century French art. “In form, Les Barricades Mistèrieuses is a rondeau, with a returning refrain; in technique, it is based on variants of the short, repeating bass pattern known as the Romanesca that had been the subject of keyboard and, later, guitar variations since at least the 15th century,” states Richard E. Rodda in the liner notes, “Tours de Passe-Passe (Book IV , Ordre 22, No. 8) is a French colloquialism for “legerdemain” or “sleight-of-hand,” and in Couperin’s playfully effervescent piece indicates the crossing of hands at the keyboard.”
Closing out this incredible program is Bach’s “Air on a G String” from Suite No. 3 in D major, which comes from the second movement of Bach’s Orchestral Suites and became famous as a nineteenth-century arrangement for solo violin.