Studio: Hungaraton HDVD 32421 (Distrib. Qualiton)
Video: 4:3 full screen, color
Subtitles: in Hungarian, German, French, English
Audio: PCM Stereo
Length: 152 minutes
Taped in two distinct sessions in 1986, Hungarian cello virtuoso Milkos Perenyi (b. 1948) performs the complete Bach Unaccompanied Cello Suites (c. 1720), for the most part with his eyes closed. Two sound stages provide the visual backdrop for these intensely personal realizations: one consists of a host a cellos leaning on their sides against empty chairs, almost like mannequins, at the center of which Perenyi performs with close camera work on his face, hands, bow, and strings. Occasionally, the camera gives us a double exposure of Perenyi both full size and in miniature. The camera might rotate a full 360 degrees around Perenyi’s execution of a complete movement, as in the final Gigue of Suite No. 4 in E-flat. The camera will back away from Perenyi, leaving him skewed to one side, while the silent cellos to his left look on. The lighting, courtesy of production designer Lajos Janosa, features deep blues and gradations of purple and green.
The other set is more stark, with Perenyi sitting in a kind of wing chair, before a bare white background. A pupil of Enrico Mainardi, Perenyi is a superb technician, although is tone is not the soul of warmth. Rather, he projects a hard-driving, forward motion, a literalist persona of muscular efficiency, in the manner of compatriot Janos Starker, but less ferocious. The sarabandes sing; the bourrees, gigues, and courantes dance. The whole concept has a disturbing, existential minimalism to it, a rich and polyphonic voice in the wilderness, cross- fertilized by images out of Chirico or Burgess Meredith in that Twilight Zone where he broke his glasses after the Apocalypse. The scordatura No. 5 in C Minor begins deep in the belly of the whale and rises up to sing and growl energetically. The Sarabande could depict a scene from Kafka. The Gavotte doesn’t do much better, a dance of death for a Bergman movie. A clear penetrating cello tone, sometimes of organ sonority, resonates throughout the whole set, which I recommend taking in small increments. Fascinating and eerie at once, Perenyi explores Bach in a thoroughly modernist medium.
— Gary Lemco