Moving and powerful, these performances given during July 1990
were made in exceptional circumstances. At the age of seventy-six
and suffering from a heart condition Paul Tortelier nevertheless
went ahead with recitals in the Abbaye St. Michel de Cuxa during
the Festival Pablo Casals of Prades - the fortieth anniversary
concerts of the first festival there. He was to die five months
Back in 1966 he’d published his own edition of the Suites
for Galliard, in which decade he set down his first recorded
thoughts on the complete solo cello works. He was to do so again
in the 1980s and again in 1990, both times for EMI. Unlike his
coeval Rostropovich the Suites held no destabilising fears for
him. If one thinks of the French tradition in solo Bach then
I suppose one could say that Fournier’s torch passed to
Tortelier, only that would be too glib an approximation - and
for all my great admiration for Fournier I think Tortelier’s
Bach was the more consistent and expressively integrated.
There are some visual matters to discuss. There are several camera
angle shots. One was ‘front left and under’ if you
follow, so we look up at the cello. Another was close up from
the right and yet another rather from the right side, so we can
glimpse the audience beyond. These are unusual enough angles
to note. They don’t intrude. The Abbey brickwork adds a
gauntly beautiful backdrop to the performances. We can see music
stands pressed up against a far wall, awaiting future performances.
Tortelier himself sits enthroned, as it were, in all this - we
see his face in riveting detail, the folds of his jacket, the
burnish of the cello in the streaming light, the cool, white
stone walls as they hold the secrets of the ages, and of Bach.
Each suite is a self contained unit so the credits roll at the
end of each work. This might perhaps have been remedied for DVD
but I don’t feel strongly about it and some might prefer
the finality it affords, the sense of punctuation after so great
a work has been played in so hallowed a place. The playing is
not without flaw but these specks (the Menuet of the D minor,
for example) are so insignificant as not to matter. The great
spirit that communes with Bach is revealed in humility but also
with a sense of projected self. The playing is deeply moving
- he was one of the great Bach players of his generation irrespective
of instrument, of affiliation or whatever - and this is revealed
in every bow stroke and in the palpable intensity of his playing.
He marries dancing lightness with brooding depth of utterance;
at no time does one wish that the spirit of the dance might be
stronger, so fluidly and excitingly does it course throughout
the set. His courantes
are an especial delight but this
is to take one example from among so many.
Should you want a visual representation of Tortelier, or indeed
of the Suites, this DVD is essential.
Index: all reviews of the Bach Cello Suites on Musicweb