Michael Poll at The Bramall, University of Birmingham by Norman Stinchcombe
With some thought and imagination this might have been a fascinating evening but instead was just odd and unsatisfying. The young American guitarist Michael Poll deserves praise for his enterprise in getting his “Bach on 7 Strings” project underway. Using the crowd-funding website Kickstarter he was able to raise the cash to fund a recording of Bach’s Suites for Lute BWV 996 in E minor and BWV 1006a in E major at Abbey Road Studios, and now this was an opportunity to hear, live, the fruits of his labours. As the two suites combined last just over forty minutes this is clearly not enough for an evening’s recital – but that’s all we got. Well that’s not strictly true: audience members were invited, in turn, to don a virtual-reality headset to hear a sample of Poll’s playing accompanied by a 3D graphic display. Watching someone doing this isn’t entertaining.
Poll’s use of a specially-made seven-string guitar, using a thumb-plucked bass-string to increase the instrument’s range, worked well. Generally the effects were subtle but on occasion delightful as if the bass voice in a vocal quartet had entered surreptitiously and it gave a resounding final flourish to the E major’s Prelude. Poll appears to be a quiet, intelligent and self-effacing man and so is his playing – phrasing was neat but not particularly imaginative and the tonal palette limited. The famous Gavotte en Rondeau (best known from the Violin Partita No.3) is a delightful and sparkling piece but Poll’s was serviceable and plain.