J S Bach - Cello Suites Nos. 1, 2 & 3

Published Thursday 27th June 2019
J S Bach - Cello Suites Nos. 1, 2 & 3
J S Bach - Cello Suites Nos. 1, 2 & 3

STYLE: Classical
RATING 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8
OUR PRODUCT CODE: 174970-28154
LABEL: Warner Classics 0190295793395

Reviewed by Steven Whitehead

Johann Sebastian Bach's six unaccompanied cello suites are one of the greatest challenges for any musician - and one of the greatest pleasures for any listener. Naturally all the greats - or want-to-be greats - have made an attempt and while the notes on the score may remain the same, the ways in which they can be played are as varied as the cellists playing them. Thus the favourite dictum of this reviewer needs to be stated yet again: you pay your money and you take your choice. Even looking at the version under review by the great Austrian cellist and conductor Heinrich Schiff (1951-2016) can be confusing as it has been reissued in several guises, including a double CD with all six suites (BWV 1007 to 1012 inclusive) that is still in catalogue as well as two shorter CDs with three on each, the first of which being the subject of this review. On the plus side, this is a budget reissue and really is invitingly affordable. On the minus side, the presentation is basic with a short essay by Peter Avis, repeated word for word in the second volume, and no biographical information about either composer or performer. The small print tells us that it was recorded in the "Evangelische Kirche, Seon" in 1984 and beyond that I can tell you no more. However, one thing I can say and say it loud: this is an excellent collection of joyful music played and recorded very well indeed. The suites were written round about 1720 when Bach was living in K├Âthen in Saxony-Anhalt where he was employed as a secular rather than an ecclesiastical musician. While some see these suites as reflecting Bach's Christian faith, the great cellist Stephen Isserlis goes so far as to see them as a Mystery Suite that can be linked to the Life of Christ. Under this scheme Suite One is "The Joyful Mystery Of The Nativity", Suite Two the "Sorrowful Mystery: The Agony In The Garden", and Suite Three the "Glorious Mystery: Descent Of The Holy Ghost". He may be right and even if he is not the music remains well worth hearing for the sheer joy of it, even if it carries no greater spiritual meaning than good music is worth hearing. Let us be glad that there are those who can compose and play for our pleasure.

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

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