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GRAMOPHONE ( 09 / 2018)
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Reviewer: William Yeoman

The Paris-born lutenist Thomas Dunford is known for his sensitive, imaginative continuo work in ensembles such as Jonathan Cohen’s Arcangelo. Indeed, this year he formed his own Baroque ensemble, Jupiter. So one might expect his solo playing to exhibit a certain expansiveness, theatricality even, or at least a liberal use of harmonic, melodic and rhythmic ornamentation.

But no. What we get with Dunford’s Bach is instead a certain purity, a relatively unadorned line which assimilates articulation in favour of flow and clarity. The expression – of form or emotion – is all in the phrasing, which relies on the art of silence as much as a subtle rubato. It’s quite beautiful and refreshing, as though excrescences have been shorn away to reveal the classical architecture underneath.

In Dunford’s arrangement of Bach’s First Cello Suite, the implied bass line is less manifested than expected. Appoggiaturas are favoured over trills; mordants are similarly eschewed. One has only to hear the superb, liberally ornamented 2012 recording by Dunford’s erstwhile teacher, Hopkinson Smith (Naïve, 8/13), to realise Dunford is after something different here. (It should be noted, too, that Dunford is playing an archlute, a smaller instrument than Smith’s theorbo, though both have extended necks with unstopped bass strings.)

Bach’s own arrangement for lute of his Fifth Cello Suite is more richly realised in performance; the Prelude’s rapid fugue also lends it a certain propulsion that looks back to the previous movement’s crisp Gigue and forwards to the final work on the recording, a brilliant, dramatic reading of Bach’s D minor Chaconne, again in Dunford’s arrangement.

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