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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger



Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Six Suites for Solo Cello, BWV 1007-1012

Disc 1:
Suite No. 1 in G major, BWV 1007
Suite No. 4 in E flat major, BWV 1010
Suite No. 5 in C minor, BWV 1011
Disc 2:
Suite No. 3 in C major, BWV 1009
Suite No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1008
Suite No. 6 in D major, BWV 1012
Hidemi Suzuki, cello
Recorded Luthersekerk, Haarlem, Netherlands, September 1995
DEUTSCHE HARMONIA MUNDI DHM 82876 601472 [65:04 + 70:21]



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Comparison Sets:
Beschi/Winter und Winter
Sheppard/Metronome
Jaap ter Linden/Harmonia Mundi

Deutsche Harmonia Mundi might have thought that its star would rise when absorbed by BMG, but its catalogue has instead been ravaged without mercy. Fortunately, a new mid-price series named "Splendeurs" is bringing back to the market previous DHM full price releases. I was pleased to receive the Hidemi Suzuki set of Bach's Suites for Solo Cello played on baroque cello.

Suzuki has for many years been an integral figure in the historically informed performance movement. Born in Kobe, Japan, he graduated from the Toho-Gakuen School of Music in Tokyo. Suzuki studied with Japan's best cellists and conductors, eventually teaching chamber music and orchestral playing at the Toho-Gakuen School. Through a scholarship from the Japanese government, he went to Holland in 1984 to study with the famed baroque cellist Anner Bylsma and won first prize at the First International Baroque Cello Competition in Paris in 1986. Suzuki has played with the Orchestra of the 18th Century, La Petite Bande, and the Bach Collegium Japan in addition to his solo concertizing. He currently teaches at the Royal Conservatory in Brussels.

To my chagrin, Suzuki's performances are not highly rewarding. Matters of tempo, dynamics, emotional breadth and conversational levels are the root causes, giving the interpretations a rather faceless quality. Although most of the playing is appealing, I think it's fair to say that Bach's Cello Suites convey much more than Suzuki gives his audience.

The issue of changes in tempo and dynamics looms large. Suzuki, in contrast to the excellent sets listed above, infrequently alters these features and does so only within a narrow range. It's straight-ahead playing all the time that can become tiresome and lacking in interest. Add in a restricted range of dynamics, and the readings are sorely lacking in individuality.

Another deficiency of Suzuki's set is that he places restrictions on the spectrum of emotions in Bach's music, as if he cuts off a large chunk from each end. Suzuki's performances have been said to be somber, but I just think that he is unable to reach the great exuberance called for by some of the movements such as the courantes and gigues. As for depth of expression, Suzuki doesn't hold a candle to the ter Linden and Sheppard interpretations. Suzuki's swells are often weak and his slurring only mildly effective. Most significant, he seems to be going through the motions instead of identifying with Bach's emotionally rich tapestry.

All the above results in ineffective voice interaction and bland conversation. Certainly, the conversational requirements of the Cello Suites are immense, and this is the one area where Suzuki's failings are absolutely critical. I can't remember the last time I was so unimpressed with the voice interaction in a recording of the Cello Suites. Even in versions I have not liked very much, such as the Pieter Wispelwey sets on Channel Classics, the conversational level is much more captivating than from Suzuki.

The recorded sound is excellent, and the set comes with the original booklet notes that are highly informative and insightful. However, these fine features are extraneous to Suzuki's playing which simply does not keep pace with the abundant competition from other baroque cello recordings.

In conclusion, Suzuki's set of the Bach Cello Suites represents a pleasant evening's entertainment, but nothing more. I find it hard to believe that Suzuki does not find more in this music than it has to communicate, but the proof is in the performances. I recommend passing on this set and instead considering the sharply etched and exciting Paolo Beschi performances, the rhythmically active and intense Susan Sheppard set, or the deeply moving Jaap ter Linden interpretations.

Don Satz



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