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JS Bach: Cello Suites (Bruno Philippe)

Bruno Philippe (cello) (Harmonia Mundi)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

JS Bach
Cello Suites
Bruno Philippe (cello)
Harmonia Mundi HMM902684.85   116:31 mins (2 discs)

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Bruno Philippe pre-empts the question ‘why another lockdown set of solo Bach?’ His performances provide a robust answer. Here is a highly likeable set, crackling with character. His starting point was, naturally, the most ‘French’ suite, the C minor, which he describes as ‘over-dotted and distanced’. In his hands a billowing freedom transforms its sombre mood, and the fugue is veritably jaunty.

The Frenchman is known as a young Titan of the modern cello but has worked with Ensemble Jupiter, who ‘opened up a new world’, and handles gut strings and Baroque bow with impressive fluency. From the moment Philippe injects a flourish into the G major Prelude you know this will be fun: here is an artist unafraid of artful embroidering, and, in the faster dances, does so with a delicious sense of danger as he only just succeeds in tucking a flurry of notes into the beat.

I was particularly struck by the robust joy he finds in the G major Courante and C major Prelude, contrasting beautifully with his poignant Allemandes, where he weaves space into the flow, and he rustles up a folk fiddle-like frenzy in the Bourrées and Gigues. Speeds may be moderate, energy is not.

Only the E flat major Suite, a trap for so many, doesn’t quite come off. That extraordinarily awkward Prelude needs a transforming grace (achieved by David Watkin, Jean-Guihen Queyras and Steven Isserlis among others), and here it is leaden‑footed.

He says of the recording ‘this is one where I present myself most intimately’. His personality certainly radiates through, but we’re also aware of his every breath, which can be distracting.

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Helen Wallace