For guitarists, Bach is as good as it gets, and his music is a litmus test that suggests where a guitarist stands among his or her peers--indeed, among musicians in general. With this in mind, Vieaux didn't rush into making this CD. More than once, he rescheduled recording sessions when he didn't feel ready to meet the standard he'd set for himself.
So was it worth the wait? In a word: yes. Emphatically.
Everything about this recording conveys Vieaux's devotion to Bach's music. His technique is impeccable, but that doesn't begin to describe the care he puts into making each line unfold with grace. One listens in vain for any hint of awkwardness or strain, belying the challenge of making multi-voiced music work on the guitar. Further, Vieaux isn't afraid to sing. He's no advocate of sterile Bach, so prevalent among many guitarists today. (Why anyone would view as a marble bust a man who fathered 20 children is beyond me.) There are personal touches. Vieaux tends to ornament by rewriting passages rather than pasting little decorative flourishes here and there. But his changes are always tasteful and reserved.
It's also heartening to find a musician who respects the intelligence of his audience. This CD is a marvel of nuance that casual listeners might not notice, but Vieaux obviously trusts that some listeners will. For example, in the Sarabande of BWV 995 the first note is often erroneously played as an upbeat. Vieaux is one of the few guitarists I've heard who takes care to convey this first note as a downbeat, as Bach wrote it. A small point, but one that a keen ear will appreciate. Another subtlety is that Vieaux conceived of this recording as a continuous musical arc. He arranged the program order into a grand minor key triptych followed by a glowing major key coda. To heighten the forward momentum, the Prelude and Fugue of BWV 997 are performed attacca, as are the three movements of the BWV 998 Prelude, Fugue, and Allegro. So unlike many all-Bach recordings, this CD almost compels one to listen from beginning to end. It's a reminder that perhaps Vieaux's greatest strength as a musician is his sense of architecture, something seldom mentioned in reviews of his recordings.
While still young as classical musicians go, Vieaux has quietly and steadily ascended to the top of his craft. Maybe it's time to acknowledge that we're privileged to witness firsthand an artist whose playing will be admired long after we're gone.