WORKS: Suites for Solo Cello, BWV 1007, 1008, 1009, 1010, 1011, 1012
PERFORMER: Nobuko Imai (viola)
CATALOGUE NO: 462 798-2
Nabuko Imai, one of the finest viola players of her generation, has already made a very successful recording of Bach’s gamba sonatas, so it is understandable that she should want to adapt the solo cello suites as well. Her playing is technically superb: assured and plushy-toned; but these latest transcriptions involve rather more compromises. Above all, the loss of the cello’s natural resonance has weakened Bach’s implied polyphony. Imai’s readings, too, tend to be rather literal, lacking rhetorical freedom as well as the flights of fancy inherent in these dance-inspired pieces. Her muscular, stately playing is best suited to the minor-key works, notably the tempestuous Fifth Suite. Here, a poised reading of the Allemande and a vigorous Courante offset a haunting account of the Sarabande – the spectral wanderings of Imai’s bow like a ghost gliding over strings.
Less well-known as a performer, but perhaps more conversant with Bach’s idiom, is Baroque cellist Susan Sheppard. It’s a shame the marketing campaign behind this recording plugs her as the authenticist’s answer to Ofra Harnoy – a needless gimmick which belies intelligent, carefully prepared performances. Nor has Sheppard been well served by a distant, reverberant recording which tends to drown musical detail in a wash of sound. These are elegant, introspective performances, if a little earth-bound in the more spirited movements. For gut strings with more guts, try Paolo Beschi or Pieter Wispelwey; but for timeless sincerity and musicianship, Pierre Fournier’s 1960 recording is unsurpassed. Kate Bolton