Ben Capps | Ossia | Bach, Schumann, Fitzenhagen
J.S. Bach (arr. Laurence Lesser)
Suite No. 5 in C minor, BWV 1011
1. Prélude (7:57)
2. Allemande (6:57)
3. Courante (2:53)
4. Sarabande (4:24)
5. Gavotte (5:58)
6. Gigue (3:01)
Robert Schumann (arr. Anssi Karttunen)
Cello Concerto in A minor, Op. 129
Performed with Tallis String Quartet
7. Nicht zu schnell (11:22)
8. Langsam (4:05)
9. Sehr lebhaft (8:03)
Wilhelm Fitzenhagen (arr. Ben Capps)
Performed with Vassily Primakov, piano
10. Konzertwalzer, Op. 31 (7:18)
Bach’s C minor suite will always mesmerize me. The work takes us on a dark journey through supremely powerful places. This version of J.S. Bach’s Suite No. 5 in C minor was transcribed by Laurence Lesser.
I first heard a recording of the C minor suite played by Pablo Casals and was instantly hooked! The piece has been by my side through every stage of life. I remember studying the 5th suite with David Soyer like it was yesterday. As we journeyed through this massive piece together, Mr. Soyer told me Bach had also written another version of the C minor suite for lute.
None of Bach’s original manuscripts for the cello suites have ever been found. However, there is an autograph manuscript, in Bach’s own hand, of the lute version of this suite! Out of curiosity I checked the lute version out of the library and discovered a plethora of vivid and abounding harmonies, Bach’s own ornamentation, as well as some big surprises along the way. Here was the same piece, but with some really interesting and exciting differences. I incorporated what I thought (at the time) to be some very cool additions-a handful of individual notes, some ornaments and chords, being careful not to “muss up” the cello version. Then, years later, Laurence Lesser serendipitously gave me a copy of his new transcription of the lute version of the suite for cello! The sheer number of harmonic and ornamental additions lifted from Bach’s own hand absolutely overwhelmed me! I was hooked all over again!
Here are Mr. Lesser’s own words on his transcription:
“Not only do we learn of sometimes quite unexpected harmonies [in the lute version, but] we also have precise examples of how [Bach] went about ornamentation. So, in order to share all this with the listener, I set about combining the two versions. My plan is straightforward: The Prelude incorporates as much lute detail as I could keep. And, since all the dance movements that follow are in repeated sections, I use the cello version as the first statement and the lute version as an ornamented reprise. My hope is that, even if others do not play this version, they will at least have a broader understanding of what might be implied in the relatively spare cello version. Interestingly, the sarabande is almost untouched, with the exception of a handful of harmonies that can only be termed revelatory.”
Robert Schumann’s Cello Concerto in A minor is another timeless work.
One characteristic that makes this concerto so special is the infinite number of expressive possibilities available at any given moment. Even the very opening melody offers a seemingly countless number of emotional options. The Schumann concerto is a piece that I have held close at heart for many years, experiencing the piece in so many different ways each time I have the chance to perform it.
It is said that in a letter to his publisher, Schumann expressed interest in publishing a version of the concerto for cello and string quartet. The publisher declined to publish the string quartet version proposed by the composer. Fortunately for us, however, this version for cello solo and string quartet has been created by Anssi Karttunen, the well-known Finnish cellist.
Performing this concerto with a string quartet has deepened my understanding of the work in many ways. The string quartet version offers the soloist an opportunity to converse more freely with the various accompanying voices. In the quartet version, the concerto at times takes on the quality of a string quintet, with all voices on similar musical and emotional footing. This is chamber music in its purest form.
Playing this great piece with string quartet is a wonderful way to experience the sensitivity of Schumann in a new fashion. It seems to reveal Schumann’s spirit in special ways. I look forward to many years of playing this piece with orchestras and quartets alike.
Wilhelm Fitzenhagen is best known as the cellist to whom Tchaikovsky dedicated the Rococo Variations. In addition to being one of the foremost virtuosos of his day, Fitzenhagen was also a composer. His suggestions to Tchaikovsky, for better or worse, were incorporated into what became the more widely-played version of the Rococo Variations. The Konzertwalzer Op. 31, one of the few of Fitzenhagen’s compositions which has survived, is scored for four cellos, with the first cellist given a virtuoso part. When performing the piece a few years back, I was struck by the thought of how nice it would be to have a version of this piece for cello and piano. When Ossia was conceived the Bach & Schumann were chosen as the two main events, but Fitzenhagen’s Konzertwalzer seemed like a nice way to end, so I created this version for cello and piano. Also, I couldn’t resist the urge to fiddle with Fitzenhagen’s music – after all, this was the man who felt it necessary to fiddle with Tchaikovsky’s music for cello.
I hope you enjoy these fresh takes on two of the most profound and emotionally vivid works in the cello’s repertoire; as well as the delightful dessert!
~ Ben Capps
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