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Paul Tortelier Testament to Bach: The Complete Cello Suites (1990)

Paul Tortelier  |  NR |  DVD
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Product Details

  • Actors: Paul Tortelier
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Classical, Color, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Video Artists Int'l
  • DVD Release Date: October 14, 2008
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B001FEO7AO
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #159,868 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

In this film by Peter Ammann, Paul Tortelier performs the Cello Suites recorded at the Abbaye St. Michel de Cuxa, Festival Pablo Casals of Prades, live, July 1990.

Tortelier Bach’s six Suites for Cello are at the pinnacle of works for that instrument. Cellists who tackle them successfully must have outstanding technical ability, rhythmic acuity, and the insight to convey the depth and drama inherent in the music. The French cellist Paul Tortelier is one who fully mastered these works. This DVD is a record of his 1990 performance at the Pablo Casals Festival of Prades. His son, the conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier, writes in the program notes that the event marked the cellist’s fortieth anniversary of his connection with the Festival, and that he regarded the Bach Suites as his "musical bible." Though 76 years old and warned by doctors that he needed surgery for his failing heart, he insisted on playing at the festival. Perhaps it was Tortelier’s health issues that account for the power of these performances. That back-story adds to the extra-musical interest in this DVD, as does the sad fact that Tortelier died a few months later. It’s likely a factor in the rare technical lapses that pop up here and there over the course of two-and-a-half hours of playing such difficult works with unbridled intensity. Each of the six Suites has the same structure: a Prelude followed by five dance-based movements, some slow, some fast, but all requiring a player in tune with Bach’s musical world. He doesn’t overly Romanticize the music, nor does he stress Bach’s abstract patterns over their expressive content. His decisive Preludes signal the dramas about to unfold. He infuses the Sarabandes with emotional power hinting at their profound depths. Elsewhere, as in the Allemandes and the closing Gigues, the spirit of the dance is embodied in Tortelier’s rhythmic exactitude and lively playing. Visually, this DVD is a treat in its concentration on the cellist. Producer-director Peter Ammann refuses to let his cameras wander around the atmospheric, stone 10th-century Benedictine abbey that was the site of the concert or to the audience, which, aside from applause, is barely registered here. We get closeups of Tortelier’s weathered countenance, his hands, especially the left hand where his dancing fingers bring the music to life, and often long stretches of the cellist seen playing in full frontal views, his passion and concentration matching the music’s demands. The austere, but crisp and film-making is a perfect counterpart to Tortelier’s playing of Bach’s exalted music. --Dan Davis

Paul Tortelier: Testament to Bach: The Complete Cello Suites is an all-regions DVD in color and in monophonic sound. Video ratio is 4:3.

Customer Reviews

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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bach Cello Suites December 20, 2008
this is a new DVD of Paul Tortelier playing the unaccompanied cello suites of Bachat the Prades Festival in the South of France. This is the festival that was started by Pablo Casals in 1950.Paul Tortelier was invited to be the first cellist for the Pablo Casals Orchestra. Tortelierwas one of the giants of the cello in the 20th century, and he talked mainly in France, but he played all over the world. The setting for these cello suites is a beautiful cloister in southern France close to the Spanish border. The sound quality in this cloister is absolutely fabulous.Tortelier plays with passion, sensitivity, and reflects the inner character of these suites marvelously. In addition, the camera work shows the inner emotion of Tortelier as he plays each suite. I know there are many recordings of these suites, but this is a fantastic rendition.Tortelier was to die just a few months afterthis performance. Highest possible recommendation.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Undiminished to the Very End February 4, 2009
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Now I have found the cello suite that I was seeking for a very long time. Recordings of cello music are beset by two problems: non-resonant studio acoustic, and over-close multiple miking. In the real world, the long sound waves released by the cello's long strings need a resonant space, and the Abbey Church of St Michel de Cuxa in Prades is ideal for the purpose. That is why Pablo Casals chose it for his festival, and why he did a film of Bach's First Suite here in 1954 (released once upon a time on laserdisc in Japan only), and that is why Paul Tortelier returned at the end of his life, perhaps even shortening his life, to do it there. Even Casals did not make live recordings of this cycle, however, as neither have Rostropovich or Maisky or Yo Yo Ma or Starker. Tortelier amazingly plays the pieces from memory before a living, breathing and occasionally coughing audience. The audience seems to vitalize him, and he sails over the occasional mishap undauntedly. An individual note may slide out of or into alignment, but overall the intonation is excellent, and the ease of bowing stands in contrast to the plodding evident in so many other recordings.
The disc has so much resonance that I was surprised to read on the jacket that it is mono, recorded with the use of a single microphone a fair distance from the solo instrument. I can now put my finger on what has bothered me about the other recordings of these pieces that I have heard--too many microphones, positioned too closely to the cello's soundboard, in dry acoustic spaces, the effect of which is artificially to darken the tone of the instrument. There were some wonderful monophonic recordings back in the days before stereo, and here we see that such things are still possible in our time. The sound engineer should get an award.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well worth watching a 76 year old master January 7, 2009
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In 1990 when these performances were filmed, Paul Tortelier was 76 years old and ill with heart disease, which took his life only a few months afterwards. As his son Yan Pascal says in the notes, these performances are not perfect. There are indeed lapses of wrong, or out of tune, notes. But they are more than made up for by the spirited, emotional playing and the beautiful sound. There are frequent close-ups of Tortelier's face, maybe a few too many, but they do show the intensity of the performances. There are also many close-ups of his beautiful (and huge) left hand, which is a joy to watch in action. Not many cellists would, or should, perform all six Bach suites in public at age 76. But we should give thanks that Paul Tortelier chose to do so, and that the performances were recorded for posterity.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 5 star musicianship, 5 star audio, 1 star video quality. December 16, 2009
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I must agree with the previous reviewers regarding this recording with the exception that no one mentions the poor video quality. This was recorded in 1990, not 1940 and yet, the video quality is closer to a second generation VHS tape than what you would expect in a modern video. I would love to hear an explanation of the poor video quality if one exists. Was compressing all 6 suites on one disk a factor? My technical ignorance doesn't give me an answer.
I know that I have a tendency to be negative about various aspects of recorded operas and recitals but shoddy work deserves to be criticized. On the other hand, great work such as this Tortelier Bach has my greatest respect. His attacking the Gavotte in #6 seemed to put the neck of his instrument in jeopardy and made you very aware of his deep feelings for this music. My wife and I broke into applause upon its completion (hard to imagine outside of a live situation).
This is a great Bach recital, definitely worth tolerating the unsharp image.
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