Bach: Cello Suites 1-6 - Hekkema

Bach: Cello Suites 1-6 - Hekkema

Challenge Classics  CC 72769 (2 discs)

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Instrumental

Bach: 6 Suites for Cello (arr. Hekkema)

Raaf Hekkema (saxophone)

"Since I started teaching at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague, I have become more conscious of my self-chosen mission: to create a place for the saxophone within the classical music tradition. One way to do this is to forge a stronger bond between the players and the classical tradition, in the knowledge that the saxophone repertoire too is indebted to the great composers of the past. The most influential of them all is, without a doubt, Johann Sebastian Bach.

The path to this recording was long, windy and fascinating. It started with the awareness that the cello suites provide exceptional playing material for saxophonists. But I long felt that for playing Bach on the saxophone, only the light-sounding soprano saxophone would do—which was, I believed, incompatible with the instrument for which the suites were written. During preparations for my previous CD recording of Bach’s partitas for violin (Challenge Classics, CC 72648), I discovered that the alto sax—fitted with an old-style mouthpiece—could reproduce the refined articulation of the violin. Vintage mouthpieces represent the sound ideal of days gone by. Then came the idea to play the suites on six different saxophones, each of which holds a unique place in the history of the instrument. After that, much time went into working out a usable assignment of transpositions and an appropriate choice of instruments, the resulting sound character being the deciding factor." - Raaf Hekkema

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Reviews (1)

Review by Adrian Quanjer - February 4, 2018

Bach is universal. Not only does he stand at the cradle of many later developments, are his inventions still being used as a model, but is also the most copied, rearranged and transposed composer of all. I’ve always maintained that his music is indestructible. Take for instance his concerto for three violins transposed for three trombones. I’m sure it will still sound fine, like his “Wohltemperierte Klavier” on accordion (Bach: Das wohltemperiete Akkordeon - Miki). And wasn’t it the Master himself who set the example? Are there limits to what is possible? Not this time.

Here we have his six cello solo suites reworked for saxophone. I see two major difficulties: One is the problem of double stops and the other is breath management. How can a single tone instrument produce a stringed double stop (tone) and how can a long musical line be played without breathing? There are ample samples of respectable saxophonists trying to play bits of Bach’s solo cello suites on the internet (YouTube) failing to solve the breathing problem.

Raaf Hekkema’s ambitious project is different. His arrangement of the score is such that he kind of gives the impression of playing double stops. A technical tour the force. And as for breathing: it looks, or rather: sounds as though he has a quiet long pump providing from a side entrance all the air needed to do the job without bothering the listener with unwanted noises. Again, it all points to superb skill and masterly breath management.

But this is only part of the story. Hekkema has done more than just arrange the score. Contrary to his previous album, using a soprano saxophone for Bach’s partitas for solo violin, he has created an unusual piece of art no one before has -to my knowledge- thought of: using different instruments for different suites, all of them historical ones, fitted with well-chosen mouthpieces. All this is explained in extenso in the liner notes, but the main idea is to give each suite the best-suited sound spectrum.

Did he manage to give us old wine in new sacks? I think so. But I’m aware that cynical worrywarts will find that the vibes are not the same as when played on a gut-stringed historical cello. That being so, I am at the same time convinced that all serious saxophone players will be thrilled to listen to what this unique saxophonist can do with the material at hand. And so will be Adolphe Sax, inventor. Another brilliant example of lifting the saxophone family once more back into the realm of where Monsieur Sax surely must have hoped it would find its ultimate destination.

Normandy, France.

Copyright © 2018 Adrian Quanjer and


Sonics (Multichannel):

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