Johann Sebastian BACH
(1685-1750) Suites for unaccompanied cello
Suite no. 1 in G major, BWV 1007 [19:07]
Suite no. 2 in D minor, BWV 1008 [20.14]
Suite no. 6 in D major, BWV 1012 [32:22]
Suite no. 3 in C major, BWV 1009 [23:23]
Suite no. 4 in E flat major, BWV 1010 [26:56]
Suite no. 5 in C minor, BWV 1011 [32:22]
Hekun Wu (cello)
rec. June, 2008, Hudson Hall, Rogers Music Centre, Willamette University,
MSR CLASSICS MS 1385 [71:44 + 76:03]
Hekun Wu’s recording of the Six Suites for unaccompanied cello
by J.S. Bach joins a crowded field over fifty strong. Unfortunately
it is not competitive in any way with recent versions on either
period or modern cello.
The foundation of the modern cello repertoire, the Suites all
follow a six movement pattern. The Prelude is the longest and
most improvisatory movement; this is followed by contrasting
dance movements, an Allemande, Courante, and Sarabande, finishing
with a Gigue. In between the Sarabande and Gigue is a pair of
“modern” dance movements; Suites nos. 1 and 2 feature Minuets,
nos. 3 and 4 Bourrées, and nos. 5 and 6 Gavottes. Despite this
similarity of layout, the suites are all very different from
each other in mood. Numbers 2 and 5, the minor key suites, have
a richly tragic character; the Sarabande of Suite no. 5 in particular
has a feeling of immense sadness.
Any performer of the Bach Cello Suites has above all to fend
off any feeling of monotony - an ever-present danger with works
for a single instrument. Bach goes to some lengths to make the
cello sound momentarily like more than one instrument; chords
and “voice leading”, where one voice imitates the other in a
higher or lower register, are the major devices he employs.
It is also vital to remember that most of the movements in the
Suites are dance movements. This is not to say that they were
meant to be danced to; I remember a television program with
Yo-Yo Ma where this was attempted unsuccessfully. But the movements
have to feel like dance music.
Unfortunately this recording is singularly lacking in this feeling.
Hekun Wu plays a modern Italian instrument (Venice, 1929) and
uses a modern bow. In his liner-notes he pays tribute to the
insights gained by performers using period instruments and Baroque
performance practice. The performances, however, have an unrelieved
heftiness that harks back to the Romantic readings of Rostropovich
or Casals. I can find no trace of the liveliness, or the tonal
and emotional variety, of period instrument performances like
that by Anner Bylsma. Repeats are invariably taken, but no attempt
is made to vary the second time sections, for example by introducing
ornamentation, or varying the dynamics. I enjoyed his way with
the chords, which he plays with a delightfully light bow. But
this was a rare felicity. This music can sound so much more
interesting than it does here.
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