Bach: Cello Suites

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Bach
LABELS: Virgin
ALBUM TITLE: Bach – Cello Suites
WORKS: Cello Suites
PERFORMER: Truls Mørk
CATALOGUE NO: 545 6502
Truls Mørk’s formidable technique is evident in fine recordings of Romantic cello repertoire. For Bach, he’s admirably restrained – light transparent tone, minimal vibrato, and subdued dynamic range. He retains, though, passionate musical rhetoric, effective in the free Preludes of Suites 1-4, if less apt for the French Overture and the Italianate concerto-form of 5 and 6. Bach’s lines almost talk as Mørk articulates the harmonic logic and structure of melodic motifs. The extremes work less well in recording: on stage, a five-second silence after a pause (Prelude 2) would be visibly dramatic; on disc, you begin to wonder if Mørk’s still there.

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His flexibility becomes troublesome in the dances. They’re not, of course, remotely functional, but their titles imply certain essential characteristics including integrity of pulse, albeit not necessarily as rigid as a dancer would demand. Overall, he borrows time rather than stealing it, but cadences are often so conclusive that following repeats come as delayed surprises. In the same spirit of freedom, he expands the gap between paired movements – almost two silent bars divide the Minuets of Suite 1.

The sixth Suite, played on four- rather than five-string instrument, throws strengths and weaknesses into high relief: Mørk is unerring in multiple stopped chords, impeccable in the stratosphere of what should be the additional top string. Rhythmical liberties are not driven by technical limitations, but calculated and intentional.

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I constantly return to Jaap ter Linden (Harmonia Mundi) but to compare ‘non-period’ performances, Tim Hugh’s recent recording is my benchmark here. George Pratt