JS Bach Six Cello Suites (arr. for viola)
Kim Kashkashian (viola)
ECM 4817176 134:34 mins (2 discs)
The solo cello suites take on a different character when played on the viola: it’s not just the higher sounds, but a greater lightness and easier agility. That doesn’t mean that depth of feeling is sacrificed, especially in performances as fluid as these. Beginning with the D minor Suite, the musing Prelude shows what to expect as the music unfolds: a sense of improvisation in the slower movements, but never losing direction. And the dances, even when they indulge in rhythmic flexibility, always have momentum and pulse.
After the solemnity of the D minor Suite, the G major comes across as a happier work. It’s not just the faster tempos: the predominance of major keys allows Kashkashian to use a more transparent tone. Even the slower Sarabandes project different characters: one plangent, the other stately. And, moving through the carefully ordered sequence, each Suite is imbued with its own personality: the C minor is hopeful, and the second CD, with the remaining major key suites, moves from forthright, through playful to confidently assertive, exemplified in the Courante from the D major Suite. Throughout, repeats are discreetly ornamented, and there’s complete technical command, whether in control of colour, balance of chords, phrasing, dynamics or vibrato. For me, it was a voyage of rediscovery, aided by naturally vivid sound, and (easily overlooked) precisely gauged gaps between movements and individual suites. Paul Griffiths’s notes are thought-provoking and, even if you have several versions of the cello originals, this is well worth the investment.