CHRIS NEWMAN – Breaking Bach (Old Bridge Music OBMCD23)

Breaking BachWe’re accustomed these days to guitar settings of classical music being performed on fingerpicked nylon or gut-strung instruments, probably with some clever tunings. For his new album, Breaking Bach, veteran guitarist Chris Newman does away with all that and here we have excerpts from five works by Johann Sebastian Bach flatpicked on a steel strung acoustic guitar. Chris has chosen carefully, selecting pieces that were written for monophonic instruments, that is those with single melody line, and that’s enough of the technical stuff.

Chris begins with the Allegro from ‘Violin Sonata No 3’. It’s the longest piece on the album, a fast tempo and something of a tour de force to learn – Chris confesses that he doesn’t read music so has to do things the hard way and with the restrictions imposed on us last year he had plenty of time.. It’s also an exciting way to kick off the album. Next come three excerpts from ‘Cello Suite No 1’ which has been transcribed from G major to D major. Chris doesn’t actually explain why he’s done this but if you ask him I’m sure he’ll tell you. I particularly like the final section, ‘Gigue’.

‘Flute Partita in A minor’ is one of those compositions in which the notes tumble over each other like a waterfall, particularly the opening ‘Allemande’, although the penultimate ‘Sarabande’ slows down a bit and leads smoothly into ‘Bourée Anglaise’, a very pretty tune. A similarly reflective mood carries over into the first excerpt from ‘Violin Partita No 2’. Then, the elegant and stately ‘Corrente’ leads into another ‘Gigue’ which picks up the pace a little more.

Finally, Chris takes metaphorical deep breath to finish with another ‘Allegro’, this one from ‘Violin Sonata No 2’. The tempo is not quite as fast as the opener but if Chris confessed that he actually fingerpicked on this track, I’d believe him – the notes seem to chase each other up and down the fretboard.

Breaking Bach is a lovely album to listen to and when you’ve finished enjoying it you can admire the technique, marvel at the work that’s gone into arranging and performing the music and then enjoy it all over again.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website:

This is the piece that started this whole project off- ‘Flatpicking The Partitas’:

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