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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
The Cello Suites:-

CD 1:
Suite No. 1 in G, BWV 1007
Suite No. 3 in C, BWV 1009
Suite No. 6 in D, BWV 1012
CD 2:
Suite No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1008
Suite No. 4 in E flat, BWV 1010
Suite No. 5 in C minor, BWV 1011
Richard Markson, cello
Recorded 2002 (location not specified)
MERIDIAN CDE84410/11 [153:26]


Crotchet   AmazonUK   AmazonUS

Comparisons: Ma/Sony – Kirshbaum/Virgin

There are so many recordings of Bach’s Cello Suites on the market and such a large variety of interpretive styles that I feel obliged to detail my preferences concerning performance traits. First, the performance needs to reflect Bach’s soundworld and idiom. Many recorded versions tend toward a romanticized view of the Cello Suites that is entirely appropriate for a 19th century body of works but woefully out of touch with the world of Baroque music; the versions from Maisky on Deutsche Grammophon and Rostropovich on EMI are among those representing the romantic view.

Second, some cellists prefer to give highly perfumed and nuanced accounts. They become so concerned with the highlighting and dwelling on particular motifs that the music’s flow is retarded. An example of this style is the Wispelwey set on Channel Classics.

Third, Bach’s Cello Suites possess many movements of exuberance that are totally upbeat. These movements need to convey a generous rhythmic bounce reflective of the dance elements with strong momentum, and a sense of unbridled joy. Fourth, the flip side of Bach’s exuberance is his incisive poignancy in the two minor key Cello Suites and the Allemandes of each Suite. The cellist must dig deeply into the emotional depth Bach offers through strong bow attacks and inflections.

The comparison versions I have listed above are ‘mainstream’ in the best sense of the word. Flow and drive are excellent, and there is no attempt to whisk the compositions into the 19th century. Although I prefer the Cello Suites on period cello, the two Yo-Yo Ma recordings (1980s and 1990s) and the Ralph Kirshbaum get frequent play on my audio system.

With personal preferences now established, I can turn to the relatively new set of performances by Richard Markson. To his credit, Markson does not stray into 19th century performance practices, giving an unmannered set of interpretations fully immersed in the Baroque idiom. He also does not stretch out the nuances he provides, resulting in a fine degree of momentum and rhythmic flow. In the upbeat music, Markson could hardly be improved on. The joy and bounce he gives the music is irresistible, and he clearly imparts a strong identification with Bach’s love of life and dance rhythms.

Unfortunately, Markson wants little to do with exploring Bach’s inner thoughts and demons. The Allemandes, whether in the major or minor key Suites, get short shrift from Markson who is quick and never takes the time to convey any sense of deep regret, remorse, danger, tension, or any other emotion requiring incisive delivery. His style, although quite effective on Disc 1 is debilitating in the Suites in D minor and C minor on Disc 2. Essentially, Disc 1 is quite enjoyable, but it all comes to a thud with Disc 2.

Markson’s performances are a good example of ‘Bach Lite’, and those who enjoy Bach in this manner will likely be very pleased with his set. However, if you want the full range of Bach’s music, Markson will not satisfy. On the plus side, his recorded sound is superb with ample air to make the music bloom.

In conclusion, I hate to withhold a hearty recommendation for Richard Markson’s performances. When good cheer and exuberance are called for, Markson is right on target, but his reluctance to dive into Bach’s depth of expression mandates that I advise readers to pass on this recording and turn their attention to alternative versions such as the Ma and Kirshbaum. Of course, going back in time to the Pablo Casals versions recorded in the 1930s and available on a number of record labels is also an exceptional choice.

Don Satz

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