Cello Suites Nos 1-6, BWV 1007-1012
Alisa Weilerstein (cello)
Pentatone PTC 5186 751 159:12 mins (2 discs)
Bach’s solo cello suites have acquired such a formidable reputation as the defining moment in the instrument’s performing repertoire, it is amazing anyone dares play them at all. Alisa Weilerstein’s exemplary technique and profound musicianship are more than a match for these iconic scores, yet even she admits in a refreshingly candid note the almost impossible challenges for the modern player: ‘the suites are too rich with ideas, too full of subtleties and too dense with the burden of history for any particular interpretation to be exhaustive,’ she almost despairs. Yet far from showing any signs of awestruck inhibition, her playing exudes a gentle confidence and subtly nuanced flair that compels the listener’s attention.
The Courante from the G major suite typifies Weilerstein’s exemplary control of resonance and tonal colour, ensuring the music dances with a lightness and point one might scarcely have thought possible on a modern cello. This proves especially beguiling when Bach is at his most poetically introspective, as in the Sarabande from the C minor Suite, played here with near-senza vibrato and sinewy allure, allowing the long-range trajectory of Bach’s phrasing to emerge free of suffocating espressivo rhetoric. The deftly articulated poise with which she negotiates the D major suite’s opening Prélude also proves a revelation, completely free of strain in the upper reaches, immaculately tuned and stunningly agile when the string-crossing goes into overdrive. Most crucially, Weilerstein allows the music’s special qualities to emerge naturally from within, with an explorer’s sense of fresh discovery, rather than imposing on it a sense of awestruck ‘greatness’.