At first blush, Bach's Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin
played on the humble mandolin might be akin to making a Rusty Nail with single-malt scotch. A successful performance will require, at the very least, great virtuosity and vision: both of which Chris Thile possesses in impressive amounts. Banjoist Bela Fleck's superb 2001 recording Perpetual Motion
(Sony) demonstrated that in the hands of a superior musician, Baroque fare shines like a new dime (Fleck even covers Bach's "Prelude" from Partita No. 3 for Solo Violin (BWV 1006) here). Thile, most recently of the Punch Brothers and Nickel Creek, has grown into a mandolinist who eclipses his contemporaries and near- contemporaries.
Bach on the mandolin is nothing new, either in the classical or popular realms. Avi Avital's Bach
(Deutsche Grammophon, 2013) casts violin, flute, and oboe works transcribed for mandolin in the traditional orchestral setting to great effect. What Thile brings to the table is a first: a recording of the complete Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin
in what appears to be four volumes. Thile's arrangements are fresh and his articulation flawless. This translation of the old to the new rings with great success and promise. Whether the contemplative Andante
from the Sonata No. 2 in A minor or the lightning in the Presto
of the G minor Sonata, Thile delivers both the exceptional and special.