Bach Six Suites de Danses

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COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: Virgin
ALBUM TITLE: Bach Six Suites de Danses
WORKS: Six Suites de Danses
PERFORMER: Gérard Caussé (viola), Laurent Terzieff (reciter)
CATALOGUE NO: 9076652

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Bach’s Six Suites for solo cello transpose up an octave effortlessly to the viola in the hands of a player of Gérard Caussé’s calibre. His intonation is excellent, his bowing fluent. So far, so good. But he interpolates poetry by Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) selected by Laurent Terzieff, whom Caussé found a source of deep inspiration. The Austrian poet’s words are translated into French from the original German, but the liner notes lack an English translation. Thus, unless you can comprehend by ear, in French, Rilke’s arcane poetic language, the experiment fails and you are unable to appreciate the subtle inter-relationship of lyrically intense poetry and music.

Caussé’s approach is strangely old-fashioned. The Preludes are aptly rhapsodic: a glorious acoustic gathers up the harmony and counterpoint hidden within Bach’s single line. The dances, though, tend to lose contact with their functional heritage. Rhythms are unsteady, sometimes expressively but often, seemingly, to gain time to cover a chord of several notes; the Minuet of Suite No. 2 contains virtual four-beat bars as Caussé indulges his bow in such multiple-stopping, while the 6/8 of the final gigue is, in places, an unashamed ‘Witches Sabbath’ in 7/8. Elsewhere his playing is captivating; time stands still in the gentle Sarabande of Suite No. 2, while Bourées bound along with an infectious pulse. Alluring for fluent French speakers; less so for the rest of the world. 

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George Pratt