Link to Living Tradition Homepage





CHRIS NEWMAN - Breaking Bach 

CHRIS NEWMAN - Breaking Bach 
Old Bridge Music OBMCD23 

Let me assure you straightaway that Breaking Bach couldn’t be further from the stereotype of the solo guitar album as a sterile vanity showcase for fretboard geeks!

Chris Newman is a highly regarded ‘musician’s musician’, a veteran acoustic guitarist who can play anything, in whatever style, as to the manner born and always with the apposite depth of knowledge and feeling for the idiom. Nevertheless, he’s humbly aware of his limitations, and faced with the unprecedented challenge of lockdown inactivity he chose to take on something outside of even his own wide envelope, a quite literally groundbreaking project to play the music of baroque master composer Johann Sebastian Bach on steel-strung flatpicked guitar. Never before attempted, yet it has turned out a magnificent tour de force.

The excerpted pieces carefully chosen and arranged by Chris are intelligently coordinated to enable the disc’s sequence to give maximum listening pleasure. They comprise individual movements from compositions for solo instruments – Violin Sonatas and Partitas and a Cello Suite – and a complete Flute Partita. Only in the case of the Cello Suite has any transposition been necessary (G to D), but in all these pieces careful positioning is crucial for the guitarist. Importantly too, each note implies both melody and harmony. Classical guitarists, using nylon-strung instruments, have (traditionally) harmonically enhanced the music in their own way, enabling arrangement and presentation, but Chris plays these largely monophonic pieces exactly as written, and the clean, intimate recording ensures each note rings true. The elegance and refinement of Chris’s playing artfully conceal the seamless technique and effort expended, and the whole exercise sounds as natural as breathing: appealingly relaxed yet perennially fresh-eared and alert to the music’s possibilities. Chris’s stylish, supremely skilled fretwork is irresistible, with its swing in the step and rhythmic buoyancy, whether on the pellucid moto-perpetuo dexterity of the Allegro of Violin Sonata 3, the contrasting metrical juxtapositions of the Flute Partita’s Sarabande or the infectious jig-like momentum of the Corrente from Violin Partita 2.

The accolade of “outstanding” for Breaking Bach is irrevocably clinched, even before you learn that notwithstanding his proven, assured virtuosity, Chris doesn’t read music! The unimaginably laborious, ponderous, painstaking process of learning these pieces renders Chris’s achievement even more toweringly impressive, for this deeply listenable album is both informed by the joy of discovery and brimming over with the celebration of a hard-won achievement. Maximum respect!

David Kidman


This review appeared in Issue 140 of The Living Tradition magazine