BACH, J.S.: 6 Suites for Cello Solo – Pieter Wispelwey, baroque cello and piccolo cello (2 CDs) plus one 52:00 documentary DVD in Dolby Digital 5:1 (16:9) ‘392’ – EPR Classics 2012 ERPC 0012 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
The 6 Bach Cello Suites were composed around 1720. They verge on the experimental, having been written for one of the virtuosi of the Cöthen Orchestra, to explore the technical and expressive limits of the instrument. The suites exist thanks to a hastily-written manuscript copy prepared by Bach’s second wife Anna Magdalena in 1730, which remained virtually dormant for two hundred years. Today, the six Bach suites are a bible for cello players. Each of these is prismatic, revealing differing facets of exuberant joy and reflective sadness. This is magnificent introspective music.
Here is the Dutch cellist Pieter Wispelwey’s third recording of the suites. Whereas his previous effort in 1998 celebrated the dance aspects of the music, this 2012 recording explores the creative essence beneath each movement within the six suites. Rustic, at times groaning or growling, Wispelweys’ cello sound is a universe. His tempi are idiomatic and authentic in the manner of Glenn Gould. The instrument is tuned at ‘392’, down a whole tone from the customary. Using a baroque bow with a 1710 Rombouts cello, Wispelwey brings an individual sound and insight to this music, similar to the impact of the classic 1936 Casals recording (EMI CDH-7 61028 2, CDH-7 61029 2). [And 100% better sonics on this Pristine Audio reissue of the same…Ed.]
The excellent liner notes mention that Pieter Wispelwey has performed these suites in recital close to one thousand times. Not surprisingly, his recording reveals enormous conviction and assurance.
The accompanying DVD features commentary from two eminent Bach scholar/ musicians amidst the occasion of Wispelwey’s 2012 performance at Oxford University. The why and wherefore of ‘392’ tuning, tempi, the circumstances surrounding Bach’s composition of the suites, are discussed with a fervor well beyond usual academic inquiry. Recorded sound is close-miked with sufficient hall ambiance to provide the full range of baroque cello sound.
For lovers of Bach, the cello, great music, this set is a must. Watch the enriching DVD first to pave the way for the special experience to follow. Most highly recommended!