Bach: Suites for Solo Cello, BWV 1007-12

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WORKS: Suites for Solo Cello, BWV 1007-12
PERFORMER: Mischa Maisky (cello)
CATALOGUE NO: 463 314-2
There are over 40 currently available recordings of Bach’s six suites for unaccompanied cello. The roster of cellists, though, is somewhat smaller since several of them, notably Tortelier, Starker, Ma, Bylsma (Baroque cello) and Maisky have recorded the pieces twice over. The present release is Mischa Maisky’s second bite of the cherry, his earlier version, also for DG, dating from the mid-Eighties. I haven’t particularly enjoyed either of them, though the new set features playing that is less imposing, less grandiloquent and more intimate than the other. Many and varied though the choices for the prospective investor are at the moment, I find that there is, nevertheless, a handful of clear winners. For me, the success or failure of performances depends to a large extent upon the treatment of the Preludes with which each suite begins. Bach allowed players a greater degree of interpretative freedom here than in any other movement, but also, perhaps, provided them with a commensurate amount of rope to hang themselves. Casals, who rehabilitated these wonderful suites early in the last century, played them according to the prevailing taste of the time, yet with a nobility, a directness and an intimacy that remains both effective and touching. Maisky, though often eloquent, rhythmically lightfooted, warm-toned and technically impeccable, offers sketches, clearly delineated but sketches all the same. There is interest aplenty, but little in the end that does full justice to the music. For that, I turn to Pierre Fournier, a great ‘Romantic’ cellist who, paradoxically, brings more nobility, more concentration and more Classical restraint to his Bach than almost any of his rivals. Devotees of Tortelier, on the other hand, will not be disappointed by his 1983 recording of the suites. Much more recently Robert Cohen has recorded a very fine set, while Anner Bylsma, in the earlier of his two versions, offers the most imaginative from among several strong competing performances on Baroque cello. Nicholas Anderson