Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
The six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello
No. 1 in G major, BWV 1007 [15:03]
No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1008 [16:22]
No. 3 in C major, BWV 1009 [14:58]
No. 4 in E flat major, BWV 1010 [19:29]
No. 5 in C minor, BWV 1011 [ 22:41]
No. 6 in D major, BWV 1012 [20:21]
Jean-Max Clément (cello)
rec. 1958
FORGOTTEN RECORDS FR 868/9 [46:25 + 62:31]

No. 1 in G major, BWV 1007 [14:31]
No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1008 [18:30]
No. 3 in C major, BWV 1009 [20:26]
No. 4 in E flat major, BWV 1010 [19:43]
No. 5 in C minor, BWV 1011 [21:18]
No. 6 in D major, BWV 1012 [27:10]
Annlies Schmidt de Neveu (cello)
rec. 1957/58
FORGOTTEN RECORDS FR 118/9 [49:02 + 68:15]

These intriguing recordings from Forgotten Records of the Bach Cello Suites offered me a challenge when I set to work researching their background. What they have in common is that they were recorded more or less contemporaneously in 1958. Both are rarities in the LP market, with Jean-Max Clément’s L’Oiseau-Lyre fetching three figure sums. Not to be outdone, I’ve seen Annlies Schmidt de Neveu’s Ducretet-Thomson commanding a four figure price. What was frustrating, however, was the lack of biographical information on the internet. What little information I have on Jean-Max Clément was gleaned from the small booklet included with the CD. He was born 3 March 1907, and was a professor at the École Normale de Musique de Paris, as well as enjoying a solo career. Then the trail runs cold. Annlies Schmidt de Neveu was born in 1915 and died at the grand old age of ninety-five in 2010. She studied with Emanuel Feuermann, and dedicated her album to him. She also played in the Berlin Philharmonic under Sergiu Celibidache. From 1968 to 1980 she taught at the Karlsruhe Music Academy, and was a member of the Karlsruhe Knieper Trio.

Of the two cycles, the Clément I am already familiar with. It was issued on a Korean Spectrum CD (CDSM014JT) in 2010, which I see from my copy was a limited edition release of 1000. I have just discovered that this same company also released the Schmidt de Neveu cycle. As this label is virtually impossible to obtain, certainly in the West, it is a delight that Forgotten Records have taken the initiative.

The Jean-Max Clément cycle has much to commend it. He’s a communicative player, and whilst some of his tempi are generally on the slower side than we are used to today, the music-making has a spontaneity, leaving the favourable impression of music freshly composed and being created on the wing. He draws a big, rich, full-bodied sound from his instrument, and his varied vibrato endows his playing with a wealth of tonal shadings. He’s not averse to the use of portamenti to obtain a particular expressive effect. Nor is he afraid of applying some tasteful rubato to enhance the line. I love the way he captures the sombre introspection of Suite No. 5, gauging to perfection the ebb and flow of the melancholy Sarabande. To the faster dance movements there’s rhythmic vitality. This is certainly a premier league set, in admirable sound for its age.

When it comes to the Annlies Schmidt de Neveu cycle, it’s probably not a good idea to begin with the Prelude of CD 1. It literally left me reeling. It’s rushed, relentlessly metronomic, bereft of expression and phrasing, and gave me the impression that here was a player functioning on automatic pilot. The Prelude to Suite No. 4 is similarly blighted. However, it is not all bad news. The Suite No. 5, which happens to be my favourite of the set, suffers no such miscalculations. The Prelude is more metrically elastic and spontaneously phrased, and the Sarabande is raptly intense and eloquent. Setting the Prelude aside, the Suite No. 1 has a thoughtfully nuanced Sarabande, which the cellist instinctively contours. The Courante is well-articulated and rhythmically pliant. Throughout, the cellist displays a formidable technique, and her intonation is flawless. Sound quality is fulsome.

I, for one, welcome back into circulation these two rare, thought-provoking cycles from the late fifties. As is the norm, Forgotten Records’ transfers and re-masterings are top notch, with fine quality source copies having been used.

Stephen Greenbank
Availability: Forgotten Records