Cello Suites Nos 1-6 (arr. violin)
Johnny Gandelsman (violin)
In a Circle IRC013 107:62 mins (2 discs)
As anyone who has heard his 2018 recording of Bach’s solo violin sonatas and partitas – or seen his live 2015 performances on YouTube – will testify, Johnny Gandelsman is no ordinary violinist. Playing on a modern set-up at contemporary pitch-levels (a blessed relief for those with perfect pitch), he exchanges the post-Romantic rhetoric of Arthur Grumiaux (Philips/Decca) and Henryk Szeryng (DG) for a beguiling range of expressive responses that create the impression of him improvising the music as he goes along. In the introduction to his latest recording of the Cello Suites, Gandelsman talks of achieving a zen-like ‘Inner Peace’ when playing, and that is precisely the impression one gains listening to these immersive performances.
Compared to Rachel Podger’s dazzling, micro-inflected responses to Bach’s astonishing powers of invention on a Baroque set-up (our Recording of the Month in July 2019), Gandelsman veers more towards a sense of longer-phrased directional flow. Whereas Podger elected to get around the physical impossibilities of the final suite by seamlessly over-dubbing her own playing, Gandelsman employs a specially constructed, warmer-sounding five-string instrument.
He also tends towards swifter, more flowing tempos, most noticeably in the various allemandes and sarabandes, so that whereas Podger retains something of the cello’s propensity for soulful introspection, Gandelsman fully embraces the violin’s natural brilliance and fleet-footed deftness. The gigue finales go with a real swing, rhythmically inflected with a delightful touch of Irish folk-fiddle. If Podger’s defining account retains its rosette status, Gandelsman’s free-wheeling, modern violinistic responses are also thoroughly engaging.