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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Cello Suites

No. 1 in G major BWV 1007
No. 2 in G major BWV 1008
No. 3 in G major BWV 1009
No. 4 in G major BWV 1010
No. 5 in G major BWV 1011
No. 6 in G major BWV 1012
Susan Sheppard, cello
Rec: February, October, December 1998, Claydon House, Buckinghamshire, England.
METRONOME MET 1034/35 [132.40]

 

Experience Classicsonline

Bach's cello suites are arguably the greatest works ever written for solo cello. Recorded by any cellist worth his salt, these works contain some of the most poignant and emotional music Bach ever wrote. Susan Sheppard performs these works on two baroque cellos, a 4-string cello for the first five suites and a 5-string instrument for the sixth suite. The instrument used in the first five suites has a very warm, attractive sound, even though there is a bit too much reverb.

Sheppard plays these suites in a somewhat rough manner. She sounds as though she is playing more for personal enjoyment than for performance. At times, she strokes the cello, coaxing sounds out of it, but at other moments, such as the end of the G major courante, she sounds as though she is at odds with her instrument, forcing it to comply with her demands, to make the sound she wants.

This is in no way a criticism of her playing - quite the contrary. At times, she gives this music an energy and vitality that is not heard often enough. With fluidity in the sinuous runs of some of the allemandes and sarabandes, she makes the faster dance movements dance. The minuets in the G major suite have energy, rhythm and do not sound staid and dry, as they do under the bows of many cellists.

Sample 1: disc 1, track 5 0’00"

That said, rhythmically, there are some areas where the sound is at odds with the music. There is a certain amount of hesitation in the accented notes at the beginning of the first movement of the G major suite and this confuses the rhythm a bit. This is all the more disconcerting because it is the first movement of the set.

Sample 2: disc 1, track 1 0’00

The allemande of the E flat major suite also has rhythm problems. This deceptively simple movement - at least simple on the surface - sounds heavy and pedestrian with the rhythm just not working at all. Sheppard sounds out of sympathy with this movement, as if it is too simple for her.

Sample 3: disc 2, track 2 0’00"

While Susan Sheppard plays some of these movements with rare vitality and energy, others sound as if she had just learnt them. This is unfortunate: if all of them were as good as the best on this set, it would be one of the finest recordings available. Most of the movements are performed very well, but the few that aren’t detract too much from the overall atmosphere. Alas, the inconsistency of the set is disappointing. As it is these discs give an idea of what might have been.

Kirk McElhearn



 



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