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CD: Crotchet AmazonUK AmazonUS


Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
The Cello Suites

CD 1 [71:52]
No. 1 in G major BWV 1007 [18:00]
No. 4 in E flat major BWV 1010 [26:03]
No. 5 in C minor BWV 1011 [27:39]

CD 2 [73:25]
No. 2 in D minor BWV 1008 [20:57]
No. 3 in C major BWV 1009 [23:07]
No. 6 in D major BWV 1012 [29:09]

Paul Tortelier (cello)
rec. Temple Church, London, April 1982
EMI CLASSICS FOR PLEASURE 50999 2 28358 2 6 [71:52 + 72:25]
Experience Classicsonline



Paul Tortelier’s well loved and much re-released account of the Cello Suites arrives anew on Classics for Pleasure at budget price. Most welcome it is too. 

Tortelier’s way with Bach will not please everyone, especially the authenticists.  He plays a modern instrument and his style is full of Romantic touches, lingering lovingly over phrases where others would scamper on, and deploying many a guilty glissando where I suspect it wasn’t written.  Nevertheless, I warmed to his interpretation instantly, and especially at this price, he is warmly recommendable.

The resonant acoustic of the Temple Church helps to flesh out Tortelier’s Romantic vision of the suites: the echo is judged to precision and the engineers have done a fantastic job in calculating the acoustic so as to provide a warm bloom around the sound.  His overall vision is expansive: just compare his timings to recent releases, such as those of Isserlis or Suzuki.  He is noticeably more leisurely in his pacing, but I loved it.  He is particularly at home in the Sarabande movement of each work: the slow, stately dance is perfectly suited to his vision and in each case he relaxes into the broad pacing, allowing the melody to unfold in blissful stillness.  Some may wish for a quicker tempo to the Gigues and Bourées, but I was totally convinced by his playing.

He is particularly skilled at investing each suite with a character of its own: Suite No. 5, for example, is full of careful, almost gloomy introspection, particularly in the Prelude which seems almost to fold in upon itself.  The other minor suite, however, (No. 2) is strident and dramatic, with virtuoso flourishes used to underline the effects: just listen to the incredible double-stopping in the first Minuet (CD2, track 5).  After this Suite No 3 bursts onto the scene with extrovert boldness – there will be no complaints about lively pacing at the end of this suite – while No. 6 is gentle and graceful.  I suspect that this is why the CDs do not present the suites in strict chronological order: they build together to provide a satisfying journey this way.

Tortelier’s masterful technique is on full display for all to see here: phrasing, pacing and flourishes are all the clear product of a lifetime’s experience, not to mention practice!  His thoughtful, old-school vision is still full of integrity and at this price you can afford to have him alongside any other version you may have.


Simon Thompson




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