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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Six Suites for Cello Solo
Suite No. 1 in G major, BWV 1007 [17:00]
Suite No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1008 [19:33]
Suite No. 3 in C major, BWV 1009 [20:38
Suite No. 4 in E-flat major, BWV 1010 [23:20]
Suite No. 5 in C minor, BWV 1011 [22:28]
Suite No. 6 in D major, BWV 1012 [30:24]
DVD: 392, Pieter Wispelwey and the Bach Cello Suites [52:00]
Pieter Wispelwey (baroque cello and piccolo cello)
rec. June 2012, Serendipitous Studio, Mechelen, Belgium.
EVIL PENGUIN RECORDS EPRC012 [2 CDs: 54:00 + 79:00 + (DVD) 52:00]  

Experience Classicsonline

In this third recording of Bach's cello suites, Pieter Wispelwey makes one important change to the way he plays these works. His cello is tuned at 392 Hz, the "Cothen" tuning, a half-tone lower than the "standard" tuning of 415. With gut strings, which Wispelwey uses, this can present problems. He mentions, in the liner notes, an occasion where he had to tune back to 415 Hz for a concert because of heat and humidity. In the studio, these things can be controlled, and the lower pitch gives a stronger foundation to certain of the suites.
Wispelwey is an odd cellist. His style can be harsh and aggressive; he sometimes attacks the instrument. He plays hard. There are many movements where you can hear his fingers tapping loudly on the instrument's fingerboard; at times this is annoying. This recording has an attractive sound, but is miked very closely, and I found myself wincing as I heard the sound of his fingers at certain times. This begins fairly early, in the Courante of the first suite, and occurs many times throughout.
Wispelwey also uses little or no vibrato. I listened very closely but I didn't notice any. This works well with the Bach suites but overall I don't get the impression of the music flowing very much. Comparing this with his second recording on Channel Classics, I find the sound and playing much more comfortable. The cello is miked with a little more distance, and the finger sounds are muted, and don't disturb the music. Also, on this recording, the volume is quite high, much higher than the Channel Classics recording, so if you start playing the disc at your stereo's normal volume, you'll be a bit surprised.
For a comparison, I listened to Anner Bylsma's first recording of the cello suites, also at a 392 Hz pitch, but with a recording quality that is inferior: the cello sounds distant and thin. Bylsma puts more "music" into these works; there is more legato, more rubato, and the music flows much better. Bylsma has long been my favourite with these works, in spite of the recording quality of those discs. I don’t like his second recording as much.
The set also includes a 52-minute DVD about the suites, with Wispelwey discussing the works, along with two scholars, Laurence Dreyfus and John Butt. We also see some excerpts from a performance of the suites at Oxford University. This film gives good insights into Wispelwey's perspective.
Wispelwey offers an interesting approach to the suites, but his impulsiveness doesn't work for me. In the documentary included on a DVD with this set, Wispelwey’s excessive energy is apparent when he talks. That same energy seems to be present in his playing. For example, the Courante of the third suite sounds as though the music is almost out of control, as if the tempo is too fast to maintain a musical line. While this set is well played, it's not the way I like the cello suites. You may think differently, and you should certainly check out sound samples of these works on the internet.  

Kirk McElhearn

Kirk McElhearn writes about more than just music on his blog Kirkville.

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