Bach: Suites for Solo Cello, BWV 1007-12

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LABELS: Glossa
WORKS: Suites for Solo Cello, BWV 1007-12
PERFORMER: Paolo Pandolfo (viola da gamba)
Paolo Pandolfo is one of the most talented viola da gamba players around at the moment. He has a fine, secure technique, a wide expressive vocabulary and, above all, perhaps, a lively feeling for subtle inflection and rhetorical gesture. All these virtues, and others too, are brought to bear upon his performances of Bach’s six suites for unaccompanied cello. But adjustments have to be made if these virtuoso pieces are to be successfully transferred from a member of the violin family to one belonging to the viol. Admittedly, the Fifth Suite requires a non-standard tuning, and the Sixth an instrument of five rather than the customary four strings; but these irregularities do not meet the needs of a gamba and Pandolfo has, therefore, transcribed the music to suit his own instrument. Bach would probably have applauded him, having himself transcribed the Fifth Suite for lute. Four of the suites (Nos 1, 3, 4 and 5) have necessitated key transposition and it is this aspect of the performance, together with that of a completely different bowing technique, which requires the greatest aural adjustment. Having surmounted these hurdles, the delights afforded by Pandolfo’s artistry are plentiful. The playing is rich in affective gestures, the music eloquently phrased and commendably unhurried. What it lacks is the resonant nobility that can be achieved by a gifted, sensitive cellist – Fournier and Bylsma come to mind – but, if you can forget all that and listen to these transcriptions on their own terms you will not be disappointed. In addition to the booklet essay is an imaginary dialogue between a cello and a viola da gamba, inspired by Hubert le Blanc’s amusing mid-18th-century dispute between the gamba and the usurpers to its throne, Messrs violin and cello. Nicholas Anderson