First, I must admit that I have a strange quirk: I'm not particularly attracted to the sound of plucked instruments -- guitars, lutes, harps -- but for some reason, which I think I can discern, this album of the first three Bach lute suites (so often played nowadays by cellists) attracts me like just about no other plucked-instrument album I've ever heard. Needless to say, Hopkinson Smith is a master of his craft and art; it's hard to imagine anyone doing a better job of playing this music. But perhaps the main reason I am drawn to this performance is that it is played on the theorbo, and particularly, as on this disc, the German theorbo with its thirteen (or sometimes more) courses of strings, the lower-toned of which are double-strung, that is to say, tuned in octaves. The German instrument differs from the more common French/Italian lute (sometimes called the chitarrone) in that those double strung courses give the instrument's lower tones a nobler, richer sound. And this is what particularly appeals to me.
All that said, one needn't say too much about the thrice-familiar Bach lute/cello suites. They are among the glories of music. Hopkinson Smith gives them a a fittingly glorious reading, intimate and emotionally expressive. There is little indication of the effort of playing them, which is so common for cellists who have to play lots of awkward double-stops, and so the music flows seemingly effortlessly and mellifluously.
This CD, and its companion of Suites 3-6, are a treasure.