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Casals, Starker and Fournier on modern instruments; Bylsma for an interesting historically-informed approach on a Baroque instrument. I love Rostropovich, but his recording of the cello suites (at least the one that I have) isn't really to my liking. The playing is terrific of course but it sounds a little too reverby, distant and overproduced to me.
 

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Brahmsianhorn said:
My top 2 remain Casals (seamless spontaneity)
In spite of the 30s recording technology, another big quality in the Casals that comes through for me is exuberance. He didn't have the shadow of hundreds of recordings of these works hanging over him the way cellists today do. He pretty much produced the shadow. I've never heard anything quite like this in any recording since, although Fournier comes close. It exudes joy, and reminds me in spots of Appalachian fiddling:
 

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Arguably they are made of two cycles -- 1007-9 and 10-12, the latter exploring further chordal writing, technique and scordatura. But my real reason for posting is to ask a couple of questions to the cello suite mavens here. First, what tradition do these suites belong to? Viol music? Or was there an existing repertoire of chordal solo cello music?

And second, is there something intrinsically "cellistic" about this music? Something important lost when played on viol or on viola or bass?
There had been music for solo cello and violin before: Domenico Gabrielli for the cello and Heinrich Biber for the violin. Bach though...took it where it hadn't been.

I think the cello cycle is fairly consistent though and I don't see a clear dividing line between groups. I think it follows a kind of emotional arc as well. It does seem to be more or less progressive in difficulty. Isserlis has hypothesized (maybe fancifully, but in ways it makes sense) that the whole cycle is meant to depict the life of Christ:
"Perhaps I should admit here that I too have a 'theory' about the story behind the suites, as I wrote in the sleeve-notes for my recording. I believe that they represent the life of Christ, with the 5th Suite portraying the Crucifixion, the 6th the Resurrection. I have absolutely no evidence for this - it is really a feeling, not a theory, in fact; but I do find it an inspiring vision".
 

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Mandryka said:
What's the earliest manuscript with all six together? I mean, I don't expect you to do the research - but someone here may just know the answer!
Unfortunately there's no manuscript of the cello suites from Bach himself. The earliest is probably Kellner's from about 1726.
 

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My only recordings are Yo Yo, and I'm not going to chuck them out, but I've recently started listening to Casals on Pristine Audio and its like the proverbial scrubbing of varnish from an old canvas
The Casals discs may not be up to modern recording technology...but I would say all who have recorded these works since have listened to them and been influenced by them, regardless of HIP or modern instruments. And it shows.
 

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Another avenue of Casals influence may be the performing/analytical edition of the suites by Diran Alexanian from the late 1920s. Alexanian was an associate of Casals and his edition may be the closest thing we have to a Casals edition, since they shared a lot of the same technical ideas. I'd say most advanced cellists have studied it, especially those born before 1990 or so. I'm not an advanced cellist (yet) but I have a copy and it's helpful, though it does take some liberties with the original manuscripts.
 
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