Bach: Cello Suites

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ALBUM TITLE: Bach: Cello Suites
WORKS: Cello Suites Nos 1, 3 and 5 (played on viola), BWV 1007, 1009 & 1011
PERFORMER: Antoine Tamestit (viola)


Bach’s solo Cello Suites transfer painlessly to the viola, emerging simply an octave higher. While the smaller instrument may lack the cello’s gravitas, it imparts a refreshing transparency to the sound and a light-footed quality to the dances. Antoine Tamestit plays on a Stradivarius instrument from 1672, with a beautifully even and rich tone. Intonation is excellent, his musical intuition profound, and he resists any temptation to trespass on the tonal qualities of modern instruments.

The first and third Preludes are straightforward, allowing Bach to speak for himself. Tamestit opens the fifth with a striking sense of mystery, in contrast to the delicate filigree of the following fugue.

In the dances, Tamestit is relatively free with Allemandes, aptly viewed as ‘concert pieces’, as they were outmoded as dances by Bach’s time. The other movements never lose touch with their functional origins. So, paired dances continue without a break and at a constant tempo, matching the imaginary dancers’ requirement to keep the music going.

In the primary manuscript source of these Suites, Anna Magdalena Bach’s slurs, though hastily written and seemingly erratic, usually make the best sense of the musical detail. Tamestit observes them carefully, and effectively draws the implied harmony out of the texture.

These are an enchanting ‘take’ on the Suites, and well recorded. I’ll look forward to hearing the other three Suites soon, please.


George Pratt