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Thread: The many varieties of Bach's Cello Suites

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    Senior Member Earthling's Avatar
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    Thumbs up The many varieties of Bach's Cello Suites

    I am obsessed with Bach's Cello Suites. Of all of his works, I love the Cello Suites more than anything.

    I've currently got five recordings (Casals, Ma-1997, Starker-1997, Ter Linden, Wang and a viola transcription by Patricia McCarty) and I intend to get more in the future (Wispelwey, Isserlis and Bylsma at the top of my to-get list). I find each interpretation has its own unique aspect which I can appreciate. I probably listen to Wang's & Ter Linden's the most right now, but I like all of them.

    I'm not so interested in which is the "best" recording, but rather what is special or unique about each one. The Cello Suites seem to handle many interpretations, like looking through a prism from different angles.

    What recordings do you have of the cello suites? What is it that a particular cellist brings to his interpretation that you enjoy?

    Of course, the recordings all began with Casals, so I guess its best to start there. Its not my favourite recording, but it is a must in my collection nevertheless, and I still bring it out every now and then. He gives the suites a rather strong "romantic" feel, but it works (laying the vibrato on thick, plenty of rubato). You almost forget Bach was a baroque composer.



    I've only heard this remastered version of it-- I'm not sure if there are any other remastered recordings or how they compare, but its surprisingly good for being recording in the late 1930s!

    A funny story: Several years ago, I had checked out Starker's 1997 recording form a local library, but I only heard half of it originally, and I never heard the fifth suite. Some time later, I bought Casals recording and I put it on for the first time, but fell asleep in the afternoon as it played. I woke up in the middle of the sarabande, hearing all this strange chromaticism-- and hearing it out of context, only half awake, I was so confused-- was this some sort of modern atonal music I was hearing that got put on the disc by mistake? I couldn't believe it was Bach at first. I was so disoriented and I had to play the sarabande again to make sure I wasn't imagining things (and then I could hear what was happening harmonically). It was a very strange experience I'll never forget LOL
    At last to guess, instead of always knowing. To be able to say “ah” and “oh” and “hey” instead of “yea” and “amen. ” ~ Wings of Desire

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    Senior Member Nix's Avatar
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    I have (and listen to constantly) the Isserlis recordings. I'm young and haven't heard that many interpretations, but I like his the most. His sound is a little rough and very raw (he seems to really dig into the string) but also very smooth when it needs to be. Again, I don't have much to compare it to, but I'd say he's a little more romantically inclined.

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    Senior Member Earthling's Avatar
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    This seems to be my current favourite recording of the Cello Suites performed by Jian Wang. It seems to me that he really gets the rhythms-- though the playing is far from being merely metronomic. But the rhythms are not lost in too much rubato. The Cello Suites were, after all, modeled on dances, and Wang doesn't forget this.

    Little vibrato, uncanny intonation. Not a thick or heavy handed interpretation, but rather light and graceful.
    At last to guess, instead of always knowing. To be able to say “ah” and “oh” and “hey” instead of “yea” and “amen. ” ~ Wings of Desire

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    I really enjoy Rostropovich's and Fournier's recordings of the Cello Suites. Fournier currently holds the edge.

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    Senior Member Ukko's Avatar
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    Except for the 1st piece in each suite, they are all dances. Heinrich Schiff plays them as dances. JSB smiles when he hears them. Me too.

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    Senior Member StlukesguildOhio's Avatar
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    I lean toward the Fournier version myself, although I quite like janos Starker's muscular, dark interpretation, and certain Yo Yo Ma's first recording is quite serviceable, and Casals and Rostropovitch are almost necessities, are they not?

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    Senior Member joen_cph's Avatar
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    One of those I like is Morten Zeuthen´s recording. And there´s a bonus: the Flute Solo Partita played for solo cello, which seems to work very well; he argues that it might originally have been thought of as a cello work. Zeuthen has a wonderful tone and his rhythms are good and captivating, his slow movements likewise very gripping ... He´s rather on the Romantic side in his playing style, making the music grander than some tend to. Wonderful sound in the recording, in spite of budget re-releases going down to 4 Euros ...
    Last edited by joen_cph; Jul-16-2010 at 21:22.

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    I only have Bylsma's and Du Pre's, but I have to agree it's one of my favourite compositions. I greatly prefer Bylsma's over Du Pre's, because it is much slower and really lets you hear the groaning vibrations of the cello. I have a friend who says it's too slow in general for the piece, but I don't agree I would call the emotions delivered by Bylsma's recording to be much more calming and distinguished/mature.

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    Senior Member Conor71's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hilltroll72 View Post
    Except for the 1st piece in each suite, they are all dances. Heinrich Schiff plays them as dances. JSB smiles when he hears them. Me too.
    Yes, this interpretation sounds appealing (as does Earthling's Suites by Wang!) - have this one wishlisted now on Amazon .

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    Senior Member haydnguy's Avatar
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    I had put the Fournier in the shopping cart last night. (Didn't hit buy yet). After reading this thread and the reviews of the Fournier, it appears that it is rather on the slow side so I've decided on the Wang. That sound like a bit truer to the spirit of the music. (Just guessing because they didn't have it where you could sample the Fournier.

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    Senior Member StlukesguildOhio's Avatar
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    The take home message is - get more than one. For me, I have been quite satisfied between the Fournier and Rostropovich recordings. Different takes by both. Rostropovich definitely tends to take it a bit brisker, but Fournier does have a way with these.

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    Senior Member Earthling's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DrMike View Post
    The take home message is - get more than one. For me, I have been quite satisfied between the Fournier and Rostropovich recordings. Different takes by both. Rostropovich definitely tends to take it a bit brisker, but Fournier does have a way with these.
    I think this is one of the really maddening -- and thrilling-- things about the suites -- interpretations can be so varying that you can't just stick with one recording.

    Next payday I 've got Byslma cued up. Fournier and Rostropovich have long been on my list as well... (my goal is to one day have at least 15 or so different recordings!)

    Jaap Ter Linden's recording is taken at a surprisingly slow pace. Its a more contemplative take on the suites but my main complaint is that there is too much reverb in the recording (sounds like there's more reverb than there is cello!).
    At last to guess, instead of always knowing. To be able to say “ah” and “oh” and “hey” instead of “yea” and “amen. ” ~ Wings of Desire

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    Quote Originally Posted by Earthling View Post
    I think this is one of the really maddening -- and thrilling-- things about the suites -- interpretations can be so varying that you can't just stick with one recording.

    Next payday I 've got Byslma cued up. Fournier and Rostropovich have long been on my list as well... (my goal is to one day have at least 15 or so different recordings!)

    Jaap Ter Linden's recording is taken at a surprisingly slow pace. Its a more contemplative take on the suites but my main complaint is that there is too much reverb in the recording (sounds like there's more reverb than there is cello!).
    I've read really good things about Thedeen's recording for BIS, as well as Wispelwey's recording for Channel Classics. I sampled Wispelwey on iTunes, and the place where it was recorded has very much the feel of a very resonating room - much different, closed in feel than my Fournier recording. The Thedeen one has been calling to me for a while.

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    Senior Member Ukko's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DrMike View Post
    I've read really good things about Thedeen's recording for BIS, as well as Wispelwey's recording for Channel Classics. I sampled Wispelwey on iTunes, and the place where it was recorded has very much the feel of a very resonating room - much different, closed in feel than my Fournier recording. The Thedeen one has been calling to me for a while.
    The Thedeen is good; excellent recorded sound, close but not too close, and only moderately reverent. I know from other recordings that he has a sense of humor, so a little reverence here is acceptable.

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