Raphaella Smits Plays Bach, “Chaconne”

There are almost as many arrangements and transcriptions of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Chaconne” (from the second partita for violin in D minor, BWV 1004) as there are instruments in the world—even with factoring in the hyperbole that may be a close-to-accurate figure. Some of the best transcriptions have taken on rather legendary status—Segovia’s transcription for guitar, Busoni’s for keyboard, Helga Thoene’s weaving into the Chaconne of various melodies from the cantatas and chorales for violin and vocals (with the Hilliard Ensemble). These have such nostalgic value it may be difficult to hear something new in other, newer transcriptions . . . that is, until you hear Raphaella Smits play her own transcription on her 1827 Mirecourt guitar.

This is some of the most mournful, beautiful, and rich playing—clear separation (and interconnection) of voices, convincing phrasing, dynamics, space for the music to breathe—that I have ever heard, and it really brings new life to this familiar piece.

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