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Johann Sebastian BACH(1685-1750)
The Cello Suites

No. 1 in G major BWV 1007 [18:48]
No. 2 in D minor BWV 1008 [20:04]
No. 3 in C major BWV 1009 [23:11]
No. 4 in E flat major BWV 1010 [23:38]
No. 5 in C minor BWV 1011 [23:17]
No. 6 in D major BWV 1012 [27:16]
Nina Kotova (cello)
rec. Purchase College Performing Arts Recital Hall, State University of New York, New York, 2014. DDD
Booklet in English only
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 639411 [62:04 + 75:13]

You don't need to read the long hagiography of Nina Kotova in the booklet to work out that she can play. Her performances here demonstrate her abilities amply. They also reveal some limitations.
 
Kotova's approach to each of the suites is broadly similar. She favours long legato phrasing and a deliberate pace. Although she gets a lovely warm sound out of the Du Pré Stradivarius cello, the emotional temperature is cool. This style of playing suits the more introspective moments and movements of the suites. The second and fifth suites are convincing, though the menuets of the former and the final gigue of the latter could be more lively. The sarabandes of both the second and fifth suites are quite effective in their brooding spaciousness, though I prefer the deeper emotional engagement of Tortelier, Rostropovich and Isserlis. In fact, the sarabandes of the first, fourth and sixth suites are generally fairly satisfying. The sarabande of the third, however, tends to bloat and the allemandes of the first, third and fourth suites feel pulled about and rhythmically slack. The deliberate pacing generally weighs down the dancing courantes and where the Kotova does adopt a faster clip, such as in the courante of the fourth suite, her runs sound jarringly jagged.
 
The real disappointment for me is the sameness of the sound, the lack of tonal variety. Since Casals, a multitude of cellists have pondered these suites and produced multifaceted and endlessly fascinating performances, with preludes and sarabandes like sung soliloquies and courantes, menuets, gigues and bourées that pose, chuckle, whoop and grin. In his review of the wonderful Isserlis set, Dominy Clements put it this way:
 
“Like all of Bach’s solo work, the beauty for the listener is not only in superbly constructed musical forms, seamlessly perfected counterpoint and elegantly expressive melodic lines. Each performance is also a communion of the musician with Bach’s music through the medium of their instrument, reflecting the artist’s feelings, and surprisingly often on how they feel on that day or in that moment.”
 
I don't get any sense of that personal communion with the music from Kotova's performances, flowing and graceful as they may be in the main. There is so much more to this music.
 
Quite apart from the disappointing performances, I am not overfond of the recording itself. Heard over speakers it fills the room with a warm and immediate presence. Heard over earphones the perspective is flattened and a little close. This is not a recording for your iPod.
 
As well as the laudatory profile of Ms Kotova, the booklet recycles Peter Avis's obscure note from the 2000 EMI Double Forte re-release of Heinrich Schiff's vigorous set of the Bach cello suites. Scant information about the recording itself is provided.
 
If you don't really listen to them — if you play them in the background while you read or iron — these performances sound fine. However, they are in no way distinctive enough to stick in the memory or repay repeated listening.
 
Tim Perry

Masterwork Index: Cello suites