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J.S. BACH (1685-1750)
Cello Suites (complete)

Suite No. 1 in G Major, BWV 1007 [18:08]
(1 Prelude [2:47]; 2 Allemande [5:00]; 3 Courante [2:28]; 4 Sarabande [2:57]; 5 Minuet I and II [3:27]; 6 Gigue [1:30])
Suite No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1008 [20:13]
(7 Prelude [3:42]; 8 Allemande [3:43]; 9 Courante [2:01]; 10 Sarabande [4:55]; 11 Minuet I and II [3:18]; 12 Gigue [2:34])
Suite No. 6 in D Major, BWV 1012 [33:35]
(13 Prelude [5:27]; 14 Allemande [8:52]; 15 Courante [3:52]; 16 Sarabande [5:48]; 17 Gavotte I and II [5:00]; 18 Gigue [4:37])
Suite No. 3 in C Major, BWV 1009 [22:50]
(1 Prelude [3:58]; 2 Allemande [3:45]; 3 Courante [3:10]; 4 Sarabande [4:43]; 5 Bourrée [I and II 4:14]; 6 Gigue [2:59])
Suite No. 4 in E flat major, BWV 1010 [26:04]
(7 Prelude [5:20]; 8 Allemande [4:39]; 9 Courante [3:34]; 10 Sarabande [4:26]; 11 Bourrée I and II [5:24]; 12 Gigue [2:40])
Suite No. 5 in C minor, BWV 1011 [28:08]
(13 Prelude [6:30]; 14 Allemande [6:57]; 15 Courante [2:14]; 16 Sarabande [4:41]; 17 Gavotte I and II [5:08]; 19 Gigue [2:33])
Maria Kliegel (cello)
Recorded at the Phoenix Studio, Budapest, Hungary, May 2003. DDD
Producer: Ibolya Toth, Engineer: János Bohus, Editor: Mária Falvay
NAXOS 8.557280-81 [71.56 + 76.56]

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The Bach Cello Suites represent the ne plus ultra of the cello repertoire and few cellists fail to attempt this Olympian challenge at some point in their careers. Johann Sebastian Bach opened a new standard for the genre writing his Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin. It was just a few years later that he set down these magnificent pieces for the violoncello.

Bach’s aspiration to mastering all forms and styles had led him to a universalism as a composer; it was at Weimar that he raised organ music to its pinnacle and the church cantata to previously unheard levels of art. As Kapellmeister at the Court of Cöthen, Bach concentrated much of his time in developing the potentialities of different forms of instrumental music for soloists and ensembles. It was in Cöthen that the Brandenburg Concertos originated and that the Inventions and the Well-Tempered Clavier were composed. Despite the serialization of his handiwork, Bach never reiterates the music; each piece holds its own distinctiveness. Often in the Cello Suites, we can hear a single continuous melodic line, yet a three or four-part harmony can be discerned within all .If we recognize that the Solo Partitas for Violin date from 1720, we know only an approximate time of composition for the Cello Suites. The original score was lost and among the surviving copies is one in the hand of Anna Magdalena (Bach’s second wife). It dates from the early 1720s as it is for the then Braunsweig pupil of Bach - G.H.L. Schwanenberg. All the Cello Suites have a parallel plan influencing the conventional movements Allemande, Courante, Sarabande and Gigue. There appear Menuets in Suites 1 and 2, Bourrées in No. 3 and 4 and in the last pair two Gavottes. Each of the six suites has a Prelude, as in the English Suites which observe a similar structure. The sequences generate a growing degree of intensity not deriving from the different tonalities and owing more to their technical difficulties as much as to their wealth of content.

I only knew Maria Kliegel through her extensive Naxos catalogue. Until listening to this recording I had not heard her playing. I rather doubt the publicity that claims her as the most recorded female cellist. At least two Russian cellists, Marina Tarasova and Alla Vasilyeva have a vast discography. There is also Jacqueline du Pré whose recordings assert a special place; she however never took on the mighty challenge of the Bach masterpieces. Only two suites were set down by du Pré. Rightly this German cellist has chosen a suitable moment in her career to tackle this pinnacle of the cello repertoire.

Maria Kliegel maintains a wonderful feeling for these pieces, as if she has lived with them for a long while. She allows the music to develop and breathe, nothing is forced, no idle playing, everything is well-judged. Making comparisons with the masters of this instrument; both Shafran and Fournier are admirable, the former also possesses that deep sensitivity for the instrument. Compare this with Schiff’s more masculine and deeply-hewn playing (from his EMI CDs of 1984) which draws a darker imagery from these almost philosophical works. Listening to Vasilyeva’s Bach suites of the seventies for Melodiya, the German cellist is more consistent in her adherence to the score yet the Russian delivers a more secure interpretation of Bach’s ideas and demonstrates greater sensitivity to the score. One would like to listen to Kliegel’s interpretation of the Bach suites in say a decades time by which time she will be more aware of the felicities within these almost sacred pieces.

Miss Kliegel’s security of tone fails her in the Allemande of the G major Suite, particularly in the middle range, however she quickly regains control. It is clear that she has her own clear view on interpreting Bach and is resilient and authoritative in portraying these as individual masterworks each possessing its own unique sound world. One wants to hear her repeatedly in these pieces. Kliegel has clearly fixed Bach to her mast and she emerges as a distinguished musician in these jewels of the cello repertoire. The present readings will find their way into many homes because of the wide availability of the Naxos catalogue but they should retain their standing in the market for some time, until of course Ms Kliegel tackles them afresh. This set was recorded in Hungary some two years ago and can justifiably secure a firm place in the record catalogue along with those by Schiff, Tortelier, and by her own mentor Janos Starker. The recordings are crystal-clear and allow nothing to interfere with our listening. Highly recommended.

Gregor Tassie

see also review by Zane Turner

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