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Rysanov and Cultural Cross-Currents in Bach

Maxim Rysanov
Laszlo Emmer
Maxim Rysanov

On The Bach Hour, violist Maxim Rysanov's interpretation of the composer's Cello Suite No. 1 is a merging of two musical approaches that mirror his own path through life, and Masaaki Suzuki conducts the Cantata No. 92.

On the program:

Two-Part Inventions in G minor, BWV 782, and G major, BWV 781 - Janine Jansen, violin;  Maxim Rysanov, viola

Cantata BWV 92 Ich hab in Gottes Herz und Sinn (translation) - Yukari Nonoshita, soprano;  Jan Kobow, tenor;  Dominik Wörner, bass;  Bach Collegium Japan, Masaaki Suzuki, conductor

Cello Suite No. 1 in G, BWV 1007 - Maxim Rysanov, viola


[MUSIC – BWV 1007-III.]

“Playing Bach is like confessing – letting myself free, opening myself up to someone I trust in completely, but also feeling the pressure of being in contact with a supreme power.”


Those are the words of violist Maxim Rysanov, written to accompany this recording of J.S. Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1. As with so many musicians, Bach is central to Rysanov’s life. But in his case, the music goes beyond its importance in illuminating the mysteries of musical possibility. It also acts as a mirror of Rysanov’s own personal cultural journey.

Violist Maxim Rysanov is coming up on The Bach Hour.

Hello, I'm Brian McCreath; welcome to The Bach Hour from WCRB, a part of WGBH Boston. It’s not uncommon for us to explore transcriptions of Bach’s music on this program. But when it comes to what we call the Cello Suites, “transcription” becomes a sort of flexible term. Bach wrote the pieces for an instrument that didn’t survive the evolutionary process of the last few hundred years. Nevertheless, to hear them played on the viola is to hear a freshness in comparison to their more common cello setting. You’ll hear that with Maxim Rysanov later in the hour.

Also on the program is Bach’s Cantata No. 92, Ich hab in Gottes Herz und Sinn, or “I have given over to God’s heart and mind.” You can find a translation of the text of that piece online at Classical WCRB dot org, where you can also hear this program again on-demand. Again, that’s at Classical WCRB dot org.

And here’s a little preview of Maxim Rysanov’s playing. He’s joined by violinist Janine Jansen for these Two Part Inventions.

[MUSIC – BWV 782, 781]

Those are Two Part Inventions Bach originally wrote as a teaching tool for young harpsichord students. And they were played here by violinist Janine Jansen and violist Maxim Rysanov.

The Cantata No. 92 is what’s called a chorale cantata, a kind of piece Bach wrote by starting with a hymn that would already be familiar to his congregations in Leipzig. Each of the movements is based on that hymn, or chorale, the opening and closing choral movements being precise exact settings of the text settings and the middle solo movements paraphrased from the original.

The idea is that the familiarity of the material would make the piece easier for the audience could relate to while also illuminating new aspects of the hymn’s meaning.

In the case of the Cantata 92, the opening chorale begins with a mysterious quality, meditating on a believer’s complete and humble devotion to the divine, anchored by the chorale tune.

The bass soloist gives voice to that individual in a combination of chorale and recitative. The recitative compares earthly life to a raging sea through the words, “The waves seize me, and their fury rushes with me to the abyss,” followed by the chorale tune as the stabilizing force of the divine.

[MUSIC – BWV 92-II.]

Through the next few movements, that contrast plays out more explicitly, the tenor describing anything not under God’s watch as “breaking, shredding, and toppling,” followed by another anchoring chorale statement from the alto section of the choir.

Eventually we find ourselves back in the midst of the combination chorale and recitative, once again contrasting the stormy sea of life with the security of the divine. Now, though, there’s a more positive, hopeful angle on that dynamic, leading to an intimate, meditative aria for the soprano soloist on the words, “I remain faithful to my Shepherd. I live for Jesus...”


You can find a complete translation of this piece by visiting us online at Classical WCRB dot org.

Here is a performance of the Cantata No. 92 with soprano Yukari Nonoshita, alto Makiko Yamashita, tenor Jan Kobow, and bass Dominik Wörner. Masaaki Suzuki conducts Bach Collegium Japan, here on The Bach Hour.

[MUSIC – BWV 92]

The final chorale of J.S. Bach’s Cantata No. 92 gives full expression to a foundational solidity that, to a believer, is constantly challenged by earthly life. This performance of Ich hab in Gottes Herz und Sinn, or “I have given over to God’s heart and mind,” featured Bach Collegium Japan, conducted by Masaaki Suzuki. The soloists included soprano Yukari Nonoshita, alto Makiko Yamashita, tenor Jan Kobow, and bass Dominik Wörner.

When violist Maxim Rysanov released a recording of Bach’s Cello Suites in 2010, one review wrote that “Rysanov is a stylish Bach player, sensitively placing emphasis on the important changes of harmony and alive to the different characters of the dance movements.” That’s all true, but what’s perhaps more interesting is what Rysanov himself wrote. He learned his craft in the Russian tradition, in which, he says, “Bach was performed rather heavily, sostenuto and with a lot of vibrato.”

At the age of 18 he went to England and was shocked to find a completely different approach. He threw himself into it, lightening his approach and quickening his tempos. But in the process he lost his own authentic musical voice. After finding his way back to a sort of middle ground, these Bach performances represent, to him, a healthy mix of those different backgrounds, schools, and experiences.

Here is violist Maxim Rysanov in Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1.

[MUSIC – BWV 1007]

An iconic work of the cello repertoire, transferred to the slightly lighter voice of the viola and the multi-dimensional cultural background of violist Maxim Rysanov, that was the Cello Suite No. 1 by J.S. Bach.

Remember, if you’d like to hear this program again on-demand, just visit us online at Classical WCRB dot org.

Thank you for joining me today, and thanks also to audio engineer Antonio Oliart Ros. I’m Brian McCreath, and I’ll hope to have your company again next week here on The Bach Hour.