LABELS: RCA Victor Red Seal
WORKS: Suite for Solo Cello No. 1; Suite for Solo Cello No. 2; Suite for Solo Cello No. 3; Suite for Solo Cello No. 4; Suite for Solo Cello No. 5; Suite for Solo Cello No. 6
PERFORMER: Janos Starker (cello)
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 61436 2
These six Suites, each a Prelude followed by six dances, represent the pinnacle of cello repertoire. Starker was 68 for this 1992 recording, his fifth. He treats Bach reverentially, dwelling on nuances, taking his time, and with an intense sound emphasised by the recording level. Though his personality sometimes dominates that of the composer – rubatos dislodging the pulse in the dance-derived movements – if you like unashamedly Romantic Bach, you’ll enjoy this deeply reflective approach.
Bárta, 40 years younger than Starker, is much less deferential. Most is faster – the Fifth Suite by three minutes – and dance movements preserve a strong link with their heritage, flexible while retaining their characteristic pulse. Bárta has a formidable technique, equal to every challenge except that of the Sixth Suite, originally written for a five-string instrument. Here, the gigue, for instance, expands into an uneasy 7/8 time to accommodate the multiple-stopped strong-beats chords.
Ter Linden solves the problem by using the intended five-string instrument (obvious, really!) facilitating a bounding pulse. The contrasting registers of the normal Baroque cello clarify the counterpoint of the fourth Prelude and draw out the harmony concealed in the gaunt single lines. Stylish and imaginative – decorating Bach’s short hand chords of Prelude 2, for example – a magnificent achievement, challenging Bylsma’s definitive 1979 recording. George Pratt