Johann Sebastian BACH
Suites for unaccompanied cello
Suite no. 1 in G major, BWV 1007 [16:45]
Suite no. 2 in D minor, BWV 1008 [19.12]
Suite no. 3 in C major, BWV 1009 [21:00]
Suite no. 4 in E flat major, BWV 1010 [23:32]
Suite no. 5 in C minor, BWV 1011 [25:26]
Suite no. 6 in D major, BWV 1012 [31:09]
Liner notes (spoken word, English) [11:23]
Liner notes (spoken word, French) [9:03]
Luigi Piovano (cello)
rec. August, 2008 Montepulciano, Italy.
ELOQUENTIA AL 1021 [80:30 + 78:00]

Luigi Piovano‘s recording of Bach’s Six Suites is a treat for those who love this composer and this instrument. Too often the suites are made tedious by hefty, Romantically-derived performances. Those who find the historically informed performance school too austere, however, need have no fears about this performance. It features playing of great beauty and expressiveness, the product of a very sound technique and a profound musical intelligence.

The Six Suites follow the same structure of a Prelude followed by dance movements: Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, and Gigue. Each suite also includes a pair of “new dances” in between the Sarabande and Gigue; Minuets in Suites nos. 1 and 2, Bourrées in nos. 3 and 4, and Gavottes in nos. 5 and 6. Although uniform in structure, emotionally the suites are remarkably diverse, and form a rich musical tapestry that defies easy description. Listening to this recording I was reminded of Rembrandt’s self-portraits, progressing from pride in his worldly success as a young painter, to the worn and haunted face towards the end of his life. The Bach Cello suites traverse an equivalent range of emotion in the composer’s life.

Luigi Piovano is a young Italian cellist who is a member of the Baroque group Concerto Italiano. He plays nos. 1-5 of the Suites on a Gofriller of around 1720. The 6th suite is played on a William Foster (or Forster) III 5 string instrument that has a more silvery, reedy quality to its top register. I am guessing he used gut strings from the warmth of his sound, which is evident from the first track. Although many features of this recording reflect historical performance practice, this is no “hair shirt” exercise. Piovano’s tone is extremely attractive, and full-blooded where appropriate. The beautiful sounds he achieves are not an end in themselves, however, but are always at the service of what is going on in the music.

Throughout the dynamics are extremely varied and beautifully managed. Piovano often begins a phrase quite softly, adding bow weight and intensity as it develops. Chords are usually eased into rather than thumped out. Rubato is used occasionally and tastefully, and ornamentation is rare. Speeds are brisk-ish but never sound rushed, and Piovano points the rhythms nicely. One instance that I noted in particular is the Gigue from the final Suite, where he mixes elegantly stepping rhythms with rustic-sounding double-stops to bring the cycle to a satisfying conclusion. His intonation is uniformly excellent.

Some might find Piovano’s tonal range a bit soft in the grain; he doesn’t play into the string as much as Bylsma, for example. However - and for me this is a big plus - his sound does not tire the ear. The recording sounds very natural: the venue is not named - other than being in Montepulciano - but one might guess a small church or chapel, as the acoustic is quite lively. The final two tracks on CD 2 are spoken word versions of the liner notes, in English and French respectively. Listeners who do not want to be startled by this breaking into their post-Sixth Suite reverie are advised to program their CD player accordingly.

Guy Aron

A stunning recording of the Six Cello Suites of Bach. It has it all: beauty of sound, musical intelligence and emotional depth.