Even though I knew Antoine Tamestit was one of the best violists these days, I was unprepared for the unalloyed joy this recording brought me. Familiar through many years with Bach's Cello Suites, I don't recall ever hearing them on viola. The arrangement for viola keeps the pieces in their original keys but an octave up from the cello originals; the viola's strings are tuned to the same pitches (C G D A) but are each an octave higher than the corresponding cello strings. This difference makes the pieces sound considerably different than the originals. The most obvious thing for me is that the suites, made up as they are mostly of dances [prelude, allemande, courante, sarabande, minuet and gigue] do seem more lively, more exciting, more youthfully ebullient. Add to this Tamestit's absolutely secure and sensitive playing, and you have a marvelous listening experience. The usual impression with cellists that these are extraordinarily difficult pieces to play is absent in Tamestit's viola version, allowing one to pay attention to the music rather than the player's physical struggle.
Tamestit plays a Stradivarius viola (the 'Mahler') one of only about six that Stradivari made. In Tamestit's hands it make a glorious sound. He also uses a modern baroque-style bow.
A word about the packaging. Each of the pairs of facing pages of the booklet is printed in a different color. Text on some of those pages, particularly the ones in yellow, is almost impossible to read. Further, the translation of Johann Mattheson's 18th-century explication of the dance forms is needlessly artsy and obscure. But Tamestit's little article about how he fell in love with the viola as a youngster is touching.
This one is definitely a keeper. (It will immediately be placed on my iPod, perhaps my highest accolade.) I eagerly await a second volume that presents Suites 2, 4 and 6.