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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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The Rostropovich seems unpopular here, but I listened to it just now and was reminded why I originally liked it. It’s kind of like a Klemperer version of the cello suites. He’s not interested in being interpretive or precious any way. It’s very elemental, and with his warm, deep tone casts quite a spell.

I remember I first played the Rosty while working at Tower Records in the 90s, and promptly bought it while selling away the Schiff, which had always left me a little cold.

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The cello suites are magnificent works of art. My 3 favorites are Fournier, Tortelier, & Starker. All great recordings. I believe Sonnet CLV's post brought some great clarity to this subject. Just a great piece to explore!

V
 

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Just to indicate how much personal taste enters into the matter, I attended a recital where she [Alisa Weilerstin] performed all six. I left before the end.
I attended a similar performance in Boston a couple of years ago. I think that the recording is better than her live performance, probably because the recording process is a lot less physically and mentally demanding than trying t play for two-plus hours from memory. By the time she got to the sixth suite in performance, the effort required was pretty apparent.

I think that I've posted favorites in previous threads, but the ones I turn to most often these days are Queyras, Geringas (his third recoding), Wispelwey (his second and third recordings), Schiff, Kirshbaum, and Casals. But I have about thirty versions on the shelf for variety....
 

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Just to indicate how much personal taste enters into the matter, I attended a recital where she performed all six. I left before the end. On the other hand, I loved her performance of the Dvorak Cello Concerto (in concert with the NY Phil).

I only have a few, but I like Starker (Mercury), Fournier and Bylsma.
I don't think these suites should be performed as a group. No more than one or two (separated by other works), IMO, should be programmed at a concert. I never listen to more than one or two in one sitting.

I don't listen to the old recordings. Each year there are probably a dozen new recordings, with SOTA sound and often using a period cello that I have plenty enough to listen to and rarely go back to earlier recordings.
 

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I fell in love with the Cello Suites with Tortelier's recording, but my "go-to" ones these days are Wispelwey's most recent and Jean-Guihen Queyras. That said, I like to hear other cellists' takes on these works, because there's always something worth listening out for.
 

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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?
 

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Gendron tended to be overshadowed in his era by Fournier, Tortelier, and Starker, but it is really quite a spell-binding set. He played with immaculate tone and an assertively musical personality.
 

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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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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. 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."
The solo violin music which influenced Bach is very fine I think, not Biber but Johann Paul Westhoff. I'd be keen to explore the cello music, especially if it's chordal, I know some of the music for solo viol.

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!
 

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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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I'm happy to have all these recommendations and will listen to many of them.

I've been a long-time fan of Starker's deeply emotional readings of these pieces, but I'm open to newer interpretations.
 

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:: Pierre Fournier [Archiv '60]
These uniquely catholic and well-rounded performances are marked by formal balance & integrity, rhetorical & narrative eloquence, unflagging focus & concentration, rich & deftly varied timbre, and a sort of noble/aristocratic intensity that motivates the music-making-all in a timeless style that has survived 60-plus years of scrutiny to remain a credible top recommendation despite the hundreds of recordings that have come since. The préludes are allowed a degree or two more freedom & flexibility than the dances, which are classically formal without stiltedness. A few of the movements are taken a bit slower than I might prefer, but none are distractingly slow, and there's a compelling and ever-present sense of purpose no matter the pace.

:: Anner Bylsma [RCA Seon '79]
Bylsma's highly parsed and somewhat brusque presentation of the music artfully brings out Bach's implied voices and harmonies to make them that much easier for the listener to infer. Bylsma does an admirable job of imparting a satisfying sense of flow and momentum to the proceedings considering how discrete and fragmented his phrasing is-inspired by Anna Magdalena's "discrete and fragmented" copy of the manuscript. It takes a fair bit of ingenuity to pull off such an interpretation and make the music coalesce, and this is in large part what makes these performances so interesting. Bylsma's extremely period-sounding period cello has a raw and unvarnished complexity about it, and it sounds a bit scratchy and wiry when under attack, but it's perversely fascinating and likable for all that; he uses a slightly smaller and somewhat less "characterful" five-string violoncello piccolo for the Sixth Suite.

:: Erling Blöndal Bengtsson [Danacord '84]
Like a Long Island Iced Tea, Bengtsson's playing goes down easy but turns out to be a hell of a lot more potent than expected. He gives strong, big-boned, confidence-inspiring accounts of the the suites delivered in a smooth and somewhat plainspoken (some will argue just plain "plain") lyrical manner-nothing fussy or prissy here. Rhythms are handled faithfully enough to maintain the integrity of the various dance forms but flexibly enough to stave off any sense of stiltedness and to provide a nice sense of well-sprungness. HIP zealots will condemn the long, smooth legato-ish lines, but the sovereign quality of the playing is hard to deny. Bengtsson may not be as overtly expressive as many/most cellists these days, choosing a path of dignified/noble restraint, but he's responsive to the moods/key colors of the different suites in a less-is-more sort of way that is satisfying in the long term. With an excellent-sounding cello and a first-class recording, this set will come as a relief to listeners tired of the indulgences and excesses of many of the trendier and more "expressive" sets. Others will find the accounts too plain to fully embrace.

:: Heinrich Schiff [EMI '84]
Schiff's sinewy lines and faintly wiry yet rich timbre distinguish his playing from pretty much everyone else's, and they facilitate a style that's Baroque in spirit yet Modern in sound and sensibility. In Schiff's hands, the préludes have a free fantasie feel about them that anticipates the free fantasies of Bach's sons; the fast dances are deftly pointed, articulate, and well-sprung within a faithful but flexible formal context, and the slow dances are well-tempered versions of the same with phrasing that's elegant and eloquent and deftly reflective of the mood at hand. Tempos range from moderate to brisk, never lingering, but the playing is so clean and proficient that it rarely strikes me as sounding too fast in context-the Prélude to the First Suite being the most conspicuous exception-and focus & concentration and tension are unflagging throughout. With an excellent-sounding cello and a natural-sounding recording, this is a compelling all-around set.

:: Roel Dieltiens [Accent '91]
The slightly subdued dynamics of the playing and the warm and inviting (and slightly subdued) acoustics of the venue conspire to make it sounds as if Dieltiens is playing in the quiet solitude of his own home, so intimate and natural is the prevailing atmosphere of these recording sessions. If that suggests something introverted or relaxed (low in tension) or less than vital, however, that's not the case, as intent listening reveals a compelling focus/sense of purpose and inner intensity underlying the intimacy-it's all very insidiously accomplished and cumulative in effect, aided and abetted by Dieltiens's unassumingly rich tone and disarmingly natural and seductive phrasing. Rhythmic playing is subtly sophisticated, being flexible but always resiliently maintaining rhythmic/temporal integrity. On the downside, attacks tend to be gentler than ideal, and Dieltiens tends not to dig into the lower notes as profoundly as he might (though I get the sense that he's hamstrung in that respect by his old cellos, which sound as if they might over-resonate and buzz if played too forcefully in the nether frequencies). The top end is gently rolled off in addition, owing in part to Dieltiens's plaintive-sounding cellos and in part to the gentle acoustics. In compensation, Dieltiens coaxes some of the most beguiling midrange utterances imaginable from his cellos. This is the most personal and least generally recommendable of the sets cited here.

:: Ralph Kirshbaum [Virgin '93]
These hearty, good-natured performances are difficult not to like, as they're naturally paced with an engaging sense of ebb & flow, beautifully phrased in a lightly Romantic sort of way, and deftly characterized throughout, with Kirshbaum building and releasing tension with aplomb. His tone, too, is difficult not to like, being somewhat gruff yet rich and weighty, with a nicely burnished quality. He takes most if not all repeats and is fond of ornamentation; if his ornamentation is a trifle bit distracting every now and again, it's as likely to be a pleasant distraction as it is a tiny annoyance. His approach may not be ideally suited to the darker, more tensely dramatic movements, but even they come across well in context. Aided and abetted by an excellent-sounding cello and a natural-sounding recording, this is a set with understandably wide appeal. The set's detractors are mostly purists who complain that Kirshbaum mixes Baroque, Romantic, and Modern practices with impunity, which he does indeed do, but it's a complementary and musical mix to my ears.
 

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I have both the Fournier and Bylsma sets. Not felt the need to buy other - any of Ma's, nor Rostropovich, which he should really have recorded twenty years earlier than he did.

I heard Bylsma play the cycle live back in 1985 in Bach's 300th year. Nos 1, 4, 5 in the first concert (with an arranged Partita BWV1013) then Nos 2,3,6 a month later. Got him to autograph my program too. Much of those concerts sticks with me still, especially the 5th suite. He had the piccolo-cello for the 6th suite back then too.

A few years later in Spain I heard a chap called Lluis Claret play the cycle live, one consecutive nights in a church in Saragossa. This time it was 1,3,5, then 2,4,6.
 
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