Bach: Cello Suites, Nos. 1-6
There’s a curious dichotomy in the liner notes here. Colin Carr believes the Cello Suites are not Bach’s ‘most serious music’. ‘Perhaps,’ he suggests ‘it should be called easy listening.’ But another commentator describes the ‘mystical imagery’ evoked in this live performance, the cellist’s ‘closed eyes, graceful movements and … myriad facial expressions’. As these visual gestures are lost in the sound recording, the aural impression is of Carr playing simply what Bach wrote, free from exaggerated gesture and histrionics.
This modesty can be refreshing. The opening Prelude is unswervingly metrical, apart from leaning gently on bass notes as they define the broken harmony above. It’s unfussy, unaffected. Dance movements reflect their functional heritage, rhythmically stable though not rigidly unbending. Pairs of ‘galanteries’ – minuets, bourrées and gavottes – inserted within the conventional dance suite run together, without a significant break.
Carr’s limited dynamic range is a blessing: no brutally forced tone from the third Gigue’s repeated open-string ‘pedals’; and gently spread chords in the final bars of the fifth Prelude. His intonation is superb – barely an unfocused note in 36 movements recorded live. But even such fine technique falters in the multiple-stopped chords of the fifth Gavotte, and the final Gigue is frankly unrhythmical, with weird seven-quaver bars in the 6/8 dance as four-note chords are spread over twice their proper length.
All-in-all, such understatement, minimal dynamics and restrained passion have a limited impact in sound alone, though the watching audience, bursting into (premature) applause at the end of each suite, was enthusiastically appreciative.