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GRAMOPHONE (03/2022)
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Reviewer: Mark Seow

Bags of invention have gone into this album. Inspired by the ‘arrangement idiom’ of the Baroque, Lucile Boulanger has created suites using the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and Carl Friedrich Abel, much of it in her own transcriptions. The Bach-Abel pairing, we learn from the excellent booklet notes, is historical: ‘two veritable musical dynasties’ linked over the course of several generations. The pairing would give birth to the formation in 1765 by Abel and Johann Christian Bach of the Bach-Abel concerts, the first regular subscription concert series in London.

By meticulously combining different movements, Boulanger creates new surroundings for some well-known Bach movements. An initial impression might invoke a familiar story: both discs begin with arpeggiated, wispy wonder, one major and the other minor (perhaps, even, one for sunrise, the other for sunset). But things turn out to be much stranger, and the effects are thrilling. Transitions from a more or less unknown movement into the familiar resonance of that chord was like being in a new city, turning the corner to bump into a old friend. Bizarrely, there are also moments when Boulanger sounds as if she is not playing a seven-string viola da gamba, such is her fleet-footedness in the Allegro from BWV1003 (disc 2), banished of any traces of awkward viol-playing. This elegance characterises much of what is on offer here. Take the Gavotte from BWV1012 (disc 1): Boulanger mixes choppy resonance with copiously shaded lyricism. Or the Grave for keyboard (BWV964) or violin (from BWV1003): sensual majesty recedes into the shadows of melancholy, cadences the colour of aubergine. But it is Abel’s untitled movement from WKO187 (disc 2) that is my favourite. Boulanger’s performance sounds so improvised, so sincere that one feels almost uncomfortable being privy to such intimate soul-baring.

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