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It was only a matter of time.
on September 7, 2000
Judging by how quickly this new Sony release has climbed the Amazon.com ranks, barely a week after its announced release, we can reasonably expect that Edgar Meyer's performance on double bass of the three Bach Suites for Unaccompanied Cello will be a classical hit, maybe even a "chart-buster." For solo music this cerebral and sublime, this may represent a "first."
If so, it will be because of Meyer's staggering musicianship. I have yet to see any Sony marketing of this album, much less a published critical review, and hope that Sony chooses not to market it as "the new classical music" or label it as "crossover" (bad decisions that Sony has made in the past).
All great cellists at some point in their careers have committed performances of the complete Cello Suites to recorded posterity, beginning at least as early as Pablo Casals. While my personal favorites happen to be those of Janos Starker ans Mstislav Rostropovich (two rather opposite interpretive approaches), Meyer's interpretation would appear to come closest to that of Casals: "straight up," neither overly romantic nor too lean, with absolute rhythmic and intonational accuracy.
By transposing these suites downward appropriately to take advantage of the sonorities of the double bass, Meyer has not made his task as performer any easier from a purely technical standpoint, but has given the music a gravitas, if you like, an intentional darkening and tonal enrichment, that I find to be entirely fitting for these solo-instrument masterpieces.
Meyer yields to no one in what he accomplishes here. Despite the far greater navigational difficulties of this instrument as compared to a cello, he takes no short cuts in the double and triple stops, while achieving on stopped strings resonant (and resinous) sonorities which, written for the cello, often are for open strings. And he has all the requisite speed and rhythmic accuracy and elan that one could ask for in the dance movements of the suites. There may have been double bass versions of these suites performed and recorded in the past, but they are now all rendered irrelevant by this release.
It is not unreasonable to expect that Meyer will go on to commit the remaining suites (no.'s 3, 4 and 6) to a follow-up release, and that Sony will likely release a double album at that time. But you are shortchanging your enjoyment of this staggering instrumentalist if you choose to wait it out until that happens. This disc is simply too good for that wait. Get it now, and enjoy it time after time until the second disc comes out. And then enjoy that one as well.