WORKS: Suites for Solo Cello, BWV 1007, 1008, 1009, 1010, 1011, 1012
PERFORMER: Matt Haimovitz (cello)
CATALOGUE NO: OX 2000 (www.oxingale.com)
Haimovitz, once the boy darling of DG, has been ousted by the new generation of 20-somethings, so has set down his Bach suites on the small American Oxingale label. But don’t throw out your Fournier, Casals, Bylsma, Starker or Schiff to make way for this cycle. Nor will it replace my modern benchmark, Torleif Thedéen’s exceptionally lively and elegant BIS recording. Transparency is sadly lacking here: we are reminded at every turn how unwieldy the cello can be and how string-crossing can distort the line with angular jabs and unmusical gaps. Without an overriding mastery and control of sound, the suites remain earthbound.
Haimovitz also has a notion that the preludes should be improvisations, rendering the flowing G major a series of starts and stops, and speeding up passages in the C major at will. This cavalier attitude to rhythm extends to the dances, which lack an assured pulse: there’s a good deal more rubato than tempo in his tempo rubato.
There are however, some brave and original touches. I found the ferocity of his Courante and Gigue in the D minor Suite invigorating, and the decision to play the repeat of the first minuet pizzicato is quirky but appealing. In the Fifth Suite, the flutey, ghostly second Gavotte verges on the absurd, but captures its essence, though the Sarabande is self-indulgent. Surprisingly, the Sixth Suite is the strongest performance, and Haimovitz’s genuine love of the music comes through bright and clear.
The recording is not over-resonant, but its church acoustic does not help an already congested sound. If you like your Bach rich, heavy and as a vehicle for confessional Romanticism, this may just be the recording for you. Helen Wallace