RECORDING OF THE MONTH
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Cello Suites Nos.1-6 BWV 1007-1012
André Navarra (cello)
PHAIA PHU017.18 [69:24 + 70:17]
Of French cellists of the recent past, three tended to dominate the catalogue when it came to the Bach suites: Tortelier, Fournier and Gendron. Tortelier was perhaps the most charismatic, Gendron the most perfectly in tune and Fournier the most aristocratic. There was another elite French romanticist who committed his performance to disc and that was the ex-boxer André Navarra. In 1977 Georges Kisselhoff, who died recently, recorded Navarra in studio traversals of all the suites. This was the set that is probably most familiar now on Calliope 9641.2. I’m not sure as to the whys and wherefores of its appearance here on the Phaia label, but I hope that as many people as possible have the opportunity to listen to these noble, but freely-moving, dancing, intense, probing performances, ones that establish him, as if any such establishment were needed, as fully deserving of his place in that pantheon of great French cellists.
Commitment and love: one senses both in every bar. The tone is freighted with rich colours but lightens when need be. Bowing remains flexible. The movements are played with directness, but never with any sense of coolness or doctrinaire detachment, as one so often finds. Equally they never get bogged down in slow movements and whilst, say, the Sarabande of the third suite is imbued with rich vibrato, and whilst it’s also deeply expressive, it’s not out of scale with the other movements, as sometimes can be the case in performances of musicians of Navarra’s vintage.
Navarra clearly has no stylistic agenda. Instead his playing evinces grace, momentum and communicative intensity and, for all his accumulated wisdom in the suites, there is also from time to time a real sense, imagined or not, of spontaneity and risk-taking. His rhythmic assurance, as befits a great chamber player, is much to the fore and he brings fast moving Gavottes firmly to life. He plays the first Bourrée of the Fourth suite with a wonderful sense of motion.
The recording is now over 35 years old but sounds as fresh as the day it was taped. The performances are beyond matters of mere appellation, beyond ‘historically informed’ or ‘conventional’ performances. They simply feel right - in terms of tempo, of tone, of articulation, of characterisation. Above all, these are living and breathing interpretations. The only thing being paraded here is the music’s greatness and the artist’s role in acting as the agent of that greatness.
The only thing being paraded here is the music’s greatness and the artist’s role in acting as the agent of that greatness.
Masterwork Index: Bach cello suites
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