Michael Nicolella’s Latest Is Bach for Metalheads

Michael Nicolella, Complete Bach Cello Suites
Out now, Gale Recordings, nicolella.com/cds.htm

Of the six suites Johann Sebastian Bach composed for solo cello (in 1720 or thereabouts), he later arranged one to be also playable on the lute. Seattle’s Nicolella is not the first guitarist to take the bait and do the same for the other five, but I can’t imagine it being done more beautifully. On his recording of all six suites, years in the making, his playing is impeccable even in the face of head-spinning difficulties; and as the two-disc set’s engineer, he captures about as ravishing a guitar tone, both lush and crystalline, as I’ve ever heard on record. As Bach did in his reworking, Nicolella adds discreet accompanying voices to Bach’s one-note-at-a-time textures—and better still, knows just when not to add them: for example, in bravura scale passages, or in the pure cold water of the simple cascading arpeggios at the beginning of the fourth suite. (Some movements, in fact, like this one and the Prelude from the first suite—already very guitarish with its wide-spaced broken chords—sound better here, I think, than on cello.) On top of this, Nicolella improvises ornamentation (again, according to Bachian tradition), which adds further intensifying expressiveness and soulfulness. Every guitarist—whether your interest is baroque, bluegrass, blues, or Norwegian death metal—should hear these.

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