French cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras has recorded regularly for Harmonia Mundi; his always excellent discs include a variety of solo cello outings, as well as some superb collaborations with pianist Alexandre Tharaud. He’s also a founding member of the Arcanto Quartet, and his contributions to that ensemble’s recent disc of Bartok String Quartets (reviewed here in August 2007) helped make that excellent disc one of my “Best of 2007.” In the really superb DVD that accompanies this survey of Bach’s Cello Suites, Queyras notes that despite how integral the Bach suites are to his existence, he’s resisted recording them until now, partially because there are already so very many reference recordings out there. This three disc set (two CDs and one DVD) can be added immediately to that list; it represents reference quality in every aspect, from performance, to recorded sound and even in its really superior packaging.
The playing is first-rate, and compares favorably with my reference sets by Starker and Rostropovich. Queyras is no hack, and his playing elicits every ounce of nuance that his 1696 Gioffredo Cappa cello is capable of. The small church setting in Salzburg used for these recordings offered the optimum ambient location for recording the solo cello, and the recording offers a crystal clear image of Queyras and his instrument in a very believable acoustic. Of my numerous Bach Cello cycles on disc, this one far and away offers the very finest sound of the bunch.
The included DVD disc also adds an immeasurable amount of enjoyment to the overall experience; the disc includes a performance of the entire Suite No. 3, along with a making-of featurette that shows the interaction between Queyras and recording director Cecile Lenoir. It offers an invaluable insight into the creative and recording process, and it’s really interesting to see the actual church location, microphone placement, etc. The DVD offers an enhanced widescreen image with really good PCM stereo sound, and the image is crisp and looks great on the big screen. This is the kind of multimedia package that makes my job really worthwhile; kudos not only to Jean-Guihen Queyras, but also to Harmonia mundi for offering us such a superb release. This disc is far and away my very best of the year. Very, very highly recommended!
– Tom Gibbs