Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Cello Suites (arr. for viola by Gérard Caussé)
No. 1 in G major BWV 1007 [18:25]; No. 2 in D minor BWV 1008 [22:04]; No. 3 in C BWV 1009 [21:22]; No. 4 in E flat BWV 1010 [25:50]; No. 5 in C minor BWV 1011 [28:47]; No. 6 in D major BWV 1012 [32.25]
Six poetry excerpts from the work of Rainer Maria Rilke read by Laurent Terzieff [11:01]
Gérard Caussé (viola)
rec. July and November 2000, Auditorium de Pigna, Haute Corse
VIRGIN CLASSICS 907665 2 [78:48 + 80:17]
The distinguished French violist Gérard Caussé has undertaken one of the Olympian peaks in recording the Cello Suites recast for the viola in his own arrangement. Others have certainly done so before him but William Primrose, for one, wouldn’t touch No.6 in D major given that he considered it wholly unsuited to the instrument. When in old age, and struggling with hearing problems, he was prevailed on to record the set (now on Biddulph), he simply stopped at No.5. That said, a violist of a younger generation than Primrose, Lillian Fuchs, did record all six (Doremi) so this is a matter of judgement.
Caussé plays all six. He does so in a freely expressive manner, taking far greater horizontal time than either of those eminent predecessors; Primrose and Fuchs are almost always quicker, their rhythm more determined and their imperatives less overtly expressive and romanticised than Caussé’s more cushioned warmth.
He steers nevertheless a generally moderate course in his playing. He certainly eschews historically informed performance. His tone is rich, warm and rounded; his vibrato is constantly alive and changing colour with subtle modifications and tightening. This expressive quality never slides into a generality of response, but one does feel, certainly in comparison with the two older players cited, that he somewhat slights the necessary dance elements embedded in the music. Chordal playing is not always consistent, and sometimes the result is that music can grind somewhat to a halt whilst we wait for him to resume the spine of the thing. Ornamentation is sparingly employed.
In all, then, these are warmly textured, rhythmically somewhat devitalised accounts. They are lovely as examples of viola playing but they don’t always reach to the heart of the music.
There is another aspect to consider however and that is that the music is interspersed with readings from Rilke, in French translation, by Laurent Terzieff, the much admired French actor who knew he was dying when he agreed to collaborate with the violist on the project. The poems he chose are profound meditations but make for a curious association with the suites. They will also be difficult for Anglophones to put up with, listening at a double remove: German poems, translated into French, read by a dying actor to preface each suite. No translations are provided.
Jonathan Woolf

Warmly textured, rhythmically somewhat devitalised but don’t always reach to the heart of the music. 

Masterwork Index: Cello suites