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Bach: The Cello Suites
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Suites n°1 BWV1007, n°2 BWV1008, n°3 BWV1009, n°4 BWV1010, n°5 BWV1011 & n°6 BWV1012 - Traditionnel écossais : La Chanson des Oiseaux - Prélude de la Suite n°1 selon 3 manuscrits différents / Steven Isserlis, violoncelle
The Bach Cello Suites must have been recorded by virtually every great cellist past and present, beginning with Pablo Casals. This new recording by Steven Isserlis must rank among the best, technically and musically. His approach to the Suites is based on a careful analysis of the sources, a study of historical and recent research, and his own instinctive feeling. He explains all this in scholarly liner notes leavened with humor and personal comments. Isserlis describes the Suites as a succession of dances introduced by Preludes to set their mood and tonality. He feels, though, that Bach greatly transcended their dance character, especially in the Sarabandes which, through their depth and expressiveness, form the core of the Suites. Moreover, contemporary scholarship and the Suites' cumulative structural complexity and emotional intensity lead him to believe that, like the violin Sonatas and Partitas, they are connected to specific Church festivals celebrating certain aspects of the Passion story. He especially points to the tragic, oppressive character of No. 5 (the Crucifixion) and the triumphant radiance of No. 6 (the Resurrection), conceived for a five-stringed instrument.
The remarkable thing is that Isserlis brings all this out in his playing. His tone, with sparing vibrato, is warm and austere, dark in the two sorrowful minor-mode Suites, bright in the others. His phrasing is as natural as speech; with perfectly controlled rhythm, the dances really dance. Voices stand out like threads in a tapestry. Bach's own manuscript having been lost, Isserlis adds three versions of the first Prelude taken from the earliest copies, and honors Casals with "The Song of the Birds," a Catalan folksong closely associated with him. Lovers of Bach and great cello playing must not miss this recording. --Edith Eisler
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I listened to the Bach suites without expectations of any kind and trying not to compare to any other recording I heard before.
Stephen's playing is marvellous, technically and artistically superb. Whether it is "right" or "wrong" how can one possibly say? What Bach wrote is just dots and lines on a piece of paper, the music takes life in the heart and soul of the cellist, it transpires through the bow and sings through the cello. It's never the same. Unless we have Bach conducting his own music played by musicians on period instrument, we cannot possibly know exactly what the composer thought, felt and wanted his music to communicate.
These are Steven's Bach cello suites (not Rostropovich's, Maisky's etc.), they are different and equally great. Well done to him for taking the leap to record them!
The accompanying notes are extremely interesting. They show both the depth of Isserlis's scholarship and his thoughtfulness about the Suites. I particularly like the section headed "A personal feeling (definitely not a theory!)" in which he suggests that the suites may be seen as akin to Mystery Sonatas - an interesting and thought-provoking viewpoint, which never interferes with the music itself.
The recording quality is excellent. It is miked very close, giving an intimate feel - so intimate that you can hear the slap of Isserlis's fingers in the livelier parts. I love the sense this gives of his being in the room with you, and the sound of his cello is simply lovely throughout.
In the face of the greatness of some of the recordings which have preceded this one, I couldn't say this was definitive, nor even that it was my absolute favourite. But then I couldn't say that of any of the others either. I do know that if I had to choose just one recording to live with, this would be a very strong contender. Very highly recommended indeed.
Do read the very extensive and educational notes in the recording sleeve by Steven Isserlis--they are marvelously informative!
(The last two suites on the second disc are particularly lovely. They find Bach at his mature best and Isserlis at his greatest playing with supreme technique and beautiful tone)
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He certainly has great chops but... what happened?
It sounds almost as if he's sight-reading.Read more