CD: Johannes Tonio Kreusch plays Bach

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(Release: 15.07.2022)

There are – God knows – a lot of Bach recordings with classical guitar. And yet this one is special. It is of great creative power, so that one might think that one is encountering the causal genius of the Baroque composer.

Fono Forum

Johannes Tonio Kreusch ́s playing is very intense and expressive, with boundless heights and depths, full of sensuousness. With Bach, he has a completely independent idea of musical and formal rigor. What at first seems like nonconformism is really a desire to bring to light new and overlooked aspects of this great music.

Guitar and Lute Magazine


LUIS DE MILÁN (c. 1500 – c. 1561)



Praeludio (Passaggio) – Presto



Johannes Tonio Kreusch – guitar
All transcriptions by Johannes Tonio Kreusch

about “Johannes Tonio Kreusch Plays Bach”

With “Johannes Tonio Kreusch Plays Bach” a circle closes. The 51-year-old, who is now one of the most renowned classical guitarists, guitar didactics and festival organizers, had first practiced purposefully as a teenager – “when I discovered how beautiful Bach sounds on the guitar,” as he reports. And when he first studied philosophy at the beginning of his career, it was Bach again who led the then 24-year-old Kreusch back to his instrument and to study at the Salzburg Mozarteum and the Juilliard School in New York. “Johannes Tonio Kreusch Plays Ginastera, Bach, Brouwer” was the name of the debut album of the then 23-year-old guitarist.

Which also hints at where Kreusch swarmed out afterwards: South American and Latin American music became his specialty. With his groundbreaking interpretations of Heitor Villa-Lobos he established himself, “El Manisero” is the name of his CD released last year, which he recorded in a duo with the recently deceased legendary Brazilian colleague Carlos Barbosa-Lima, who thus left a last ingenious legacy. In between, however, his range grew step by step, timbre experiments and improvisation were added more and more, as on his Hermann Hesse-inspired fantasy “Siddhartha”.

So it is only logical that Kreusch should now find his way back to Bach, as Glenn Gould once put it: “My love for Bach made me a musician”. Because the formal and emotional expressiveness of music begins and ends with Johann Sebastian Bach. Because he can be interpreted in such different ways like perhaps no other composer, as a look at the sometimes diametrically opposed recordings from Gould to Gulda proves.

For guitarists, the scope is even greater. Logically, Bach could not write anything directly for this instrument, which was only developed later, and there are only a few entries in the Bach catalogue raisonné for the related lute. All the greater is the attraction for creative guitarists to participate in transcriptions for Bach’s magical music. It is not without reason that Bach is one of the most frequently played composers in the classical guitar world.

Of course, freedom in music also means responsibility. Just as in jazz an arrangement provides the basis for free interplay and soloistic development, so bach also requires one to be sure of the master’s intention in order to find one’s own expression. Hardly anyone takes this kind of accuracy and thoroughness more seriously than Johannes Tonio Kreusch. “Source research is an important prerequisite for reasoned transcription,” he says. “By studying the surviving sources, one enters into a dialogue with a composer as if it were. And this usually opens up undreamt-of horizons and new ways of looking at things.” His recordings of Heitor Villa-Lobos set standards because he took a close look at the composer’s manuscripts. And this is exactly how he approaches the interpretation of the two lute suites BWV 997 and BWV 996 for “Johannes Tonio Kreusch plays Bach”.

Of both suites, no autographs, i.e. music manuscripts by Bach himself, have survived, but several, in the case of BWV 996, for example, three sources. Manuscripts by Bach’s cousin Johann Gottfried Walther, for example, or manuscripts by Bach students. Kreusch did not rely on one version, he used all available ones to get as close as possible to Bach’s musical idea including the best transfer to the guitar. Once the “right” expression for him is recognized, Kreusch implements it with everything at his disposal. Guitar techniques such as flageolet, arpeggio, cross-string ornamentation or campanella lead far beyond conventional ornamental techniques. And as if Bach’s polyphony, fugue technique and counterpoint were not technically demanding enough, Kreusch also sets his own harmony and chord accents.

In this way, Kreusch succeeds in resurrecting the entire sonority of the Bach universe on the guitar, from the worn and supercooled of the “German dance” (which Allemande means yes) to the cheerful and exhilarating of a courante to the intoxicating effects of frenzied tempo. Last but not least, the sacred to gloomy drama that is also in Bach’s music.

But Johannes Tonio Kreusch goes far beyond a pure “ideal” Bach interpretation on this album. So he begins with a “Pavane” composed by Luis de Milán: After all, the Pavane was the forerunner of the Allemande, with which suites usually began in Bach’s time. Bach himself has already introduced such a prelude himself by having his suites begin with a prelude, usually – as with these two lute suites. And in the spirit of the great improviser that Bach was (“the first jazz player”, as is often said), Kreusch adds his own improvisation to both suites. No well-honed Bach variations, but very own, modern pieces. “Transparent Moments”, for example, is an impressionist fantasy that does not shy away from the proximity to modern folk music. And in “Starry Sky” a flowing thought breaks out serially, which brings the album to a close.

“Johannes Tonio Kreusch Plays Bach”, this album stands for the timelessness and immortality, for the topicality and future of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach thanks to the conscientiousness, intelligence and virtuosity of the interpretation. And if you are not interested in meaning and classification, you can simply enjoy its beauty to perfection here.

Oliver Hochkeppel

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