Johann, I’m Only Dancing

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LABELS: Telarc
WORKS: Cello Suites: Suite No. 1 in G; No. 2 in D; No. 3 in C; No. 4 in E flat; No. 5 in C minor; No. 6 in D
PERFORMER: Zuill Bailey (cello)


These suites are the cellist’s rite of passage and Zuill Bailey has, like Casals and Rostropovich before him, reached maturity as a player before recording them.

He’s unquestionably a consummate technician; intonation is well-nigh perfect, even in the stratospheric Sixth Suite, intended for an instrument with an extra top string; he glides effortlessly through the courante of Suite II at lightning speed; the notorious sixth gigue, at a well-judged modest pace, maintains its dancing flow with only the slightest broadening of first beats to accommodate its multiple-stopped chords.

The sixth Allemande is particularly impressive, reflective but never losing the very slow pulse behind its rhapsodic figurations. 

Bailey’s fine 17th-century Venetian cello is set up in modern fashion. Played quietly, it sounds profoundly beautiful, but at the other extreme it is exceptionally powerful. In the third gigue, ringing open strings, bowed again and again, build up so much tone that they obscure the upper contrapuntal line.


Close recording leads to some aggressively abrasive sound and silences in the ethereal fifth Sarabande are interrupted by intrusive in-breaths. I turned back with some relief to Steven Isserlis, still my benchmark, though Jaap ter Linden’s (Harmonia Mundi) is still the outstanding period-instrument recording. George Pratt