GRAMOPHONE AWARD WINNER 2015 - BAROQUE INSTRUMENTAL RECORDING OF THE YEAR. This recording is the first time that the five-stringed Amati has been used to record the 6th suite and it is the only original five-string cello in existence in the UK and unique in being the only one by this maker. The Cello Suites are performed on two gut-string cellos Suite Nos. 1-5 on a Francesco Ruggieri from 1660 and Suite No. 6 the five-stringed Cremona cello by A. & H. Amati from c.1600, both tuned to Baroque pitch. Bachs cello suites are renowned as the pinnacle of the instruments repertoire and are performed here in period performances by the internationally acclaimed cellist, David Watkin. David Watkin has been performing Bachs Cello Suites in concert for 35 years, and Bachs unaccompanied cello repertoire has taken him all over Europe, from the Palace of Frederick the Great at Potsdam to the Prague Spring Festival, and, as part of Sir John Eliot Gardiner's Bach Cantata Pilgrimage, included performances sitting by the font in which Bach was baptised.
In the '80s there were those listeners who thought that Heinrich Schiff might redeem cello performance practice from fatal beauty and lethal elegance. Aside from the burly and brawny Rostropovich, more and more cellists were advocating a performance style whose ideals were perfect intonation and graceful phrasing. In some repertoire, say, Fauré, these are perfectly legitimate goals. In other repertoire, Beethoven and Brahms, say, it is a terrible mistake. In Bach's Cello Suites, as the fay and fragile Yo-Yo Ma recordings make clear, it was a terminal mistake. Not so in Schiff's magnificently muscular 1984 recordings of the suites: Schiff's rhythms, his tempos, his tone, his intonation, and especially his interpretations were anything but fay or fragile. In Schiff's performance, Bach's Cello Suites are not the neurasthenic music of a composer supine with dread and despair in the dark midnight of the soul, but the forceful music of a mature composer in full control of himself and his music.
"Bach is immortal," writes Isang Enders in the foreword to his new CD of the six Suites for solo cello. "They say that Bach is the beginning and the end of all things, immortal, incomprehensible and even holy." Given this enormous challenge, no musician can be blamed for being plagued by doubts when approaching works of such calibre. And yet: "Bach's music is so human and thus always contemporary and pure. The suites should speak, they should sing and dance, hunt and contemplate – altogether subjectively and characteristically, now that I have overcome my doubts. The subjective aspect of this recording is the result of my firm conviction." These are the words of a young cellist, a high‐flyer, who led the cello section at the Dresden Staatskapelle when he was only twenty, then gave it up for a solo career. That is really all we need say; it is what marks out the Bach playing of Isang Enders from all the competing interpretations. Youthful vigour, consummate technique and a deep understanding of the works make for a perfect combination of head, heart and soul.
“Rostropovich's performances are masterly and all-involving, drawing distinctions between each work in his spoken introductions, although one can choose to hear the music without the commentaries. Unsurpassed and unsurpassable.” (The Penguin Guide)
Experience, virtuosity and individuality are all required when tackling J.S. Bach’s popular cello suites; Richard Tunnicliffe brings a lifetime of insight to his debut solo recording. Richard has made a special study of Bach's cello suites and his performances of all six have been acclaimed in Europe and Australia as well as at numerous venues in Great Britain, including Wigmore Hall and the Purcell Room in London.
Cellist Zuill Bailey releases his Bach Suites for Solo Cello on February 2, 2010. All six suites were recorded in one week at the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York City in December, 2008, following years of preparation by Mr. Bailey. "I was unaware of the depths of the music as a young person, but came to realize that there are so many ways of interpreting Bach that it channels where a cellist is at that precise moment. It has become such a personal journey for me."
This is one of the most important recordings of the 20th century, both for its content (considered by many the greatest cello music of all time) and for the intense devotion, careful preparation, and towering technical skill that went into the project. It was a brilliant idea to make a video as well as an audio recording. Cellists will welcome the chance to study Rostropovich's bowing and fingering techniques, close up and at leisure. And music-lovers will welcome the visuals of the recording location, a French church whose architecture, statues, and flickering candles complement the music.
Mstislav Rostropovich knew, loved and practiced the Bach suites from his teen years, when the legendary Pablo Casals gave him a private performance of one of them. But he did not feel ready to record the complete set until he was 63 years old. Then he found an ideal location for the recording; he carefully chose his recording technicians, and he supervised the sessions besides playing the cello as only he can. Each note is carefully considered and given its unique shape. The music's structures are made clear, its emotional overtones powerfully conveyed. The conventional structure of a baroque suite–an elaborate overture followed by a series of dances–comes vigorously to life. And Rostropovich gives a spoken introduction to each suite (in Russian, with English subtitles) playing illustrative passages on the piano or organ.
The result may appeal mostly to specialized tastes (unaccompanied cello is not everyone's cup of tea), but this video is a landmark.–Joe McLellan