Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Cello Suites - Volume 1
Suite No. 1 in G major, BWV 1007 [17:32]
Suite No. 3 in C major, BWV 1009 [21:38]
Suite No. 4 in E flat major, BWV 1010 [25:41]
Joachim Eijlander (cello)
rec. 7-9 October 2014, Doopsgezinde Kerk, Haarlem
NAVIS CLASSICS NC15003 [65:10]
Cello Suites - Volume 2
Suite No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1008 [19:10]
Suite No. 5 in C minor, BWV 1011 [25:09]
Suite No. 6 in D major, BWV 1012 [31:16]
Joachim Eijlander (cello)
rec. 31 August-3 September 2015, Doopsgezinde Kerk, Haarlem
NAVIS CLASSICS NC15007 [75:40]
Composed around 1720 when Bach was working as Kapellmeister at the court of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen, the Six Cello Suites form part of a group of secular works which were penned by the composer around this time. Not being in the service of the Church, he devoted his energies to these Suites, the solo Violin Sonatas and Partitas, the Brandenburg Concertos and the two books of the Well-Tempered Clavier. For the cellist they are staple fare and the catalogue boasts many fine cycles. I return to them often and, together with the Violin Sonatas and Partitas, find them both intellectually stimulating and aesthetically satisfying. All six of the suites are in six movements and follow the pattern of prelude, allemande, courante, sarabande, two minuets, bourrées or gavottes, and a gigue. My list of favourites includes those by Fournier, the earlier Tortelier, Rostropovich, Janigro and Maurice Gendron.
The cycle here gets off to a good start with a beautifully shaped account of the Prelude of the Suite No. 1 in G major. There’s no tedium or rhythmic flaccidity here; everything is idiomatically phrased. The Courante has energy and buoyancy and the Minuets have an attractive simplicity and innocence. Similarly, there’s no hint of monotony in the regular unbroken eighth-note arpeggiations of the Prelude to the Fourth Suite in E flat major. Rather there is a feel of abandon and pliancy. The exquisite Sarabande has a heartfelt expressive longing in Eijlander’s fervid delivery.
When I encounter a new cycle of the Suites, I go immediately to the Fifth Suite, which has always been my favourite. Eijlander doesn’t disappoint. The opening Prelude is austere and profound and the performance has a probing intensity. The Sarabande, one of only four movements in the complete cycle that contains no chords, is a wistful, lonely voice expressing sorrow and sadness. In this performance the pain is tangible and makes a striking emotional impact. The Suite No. 6 in D major is larger in scale than the others. It was composed for a five-stringed instrument, giving the performer a wider pitch range. Although Eijlander stays with his four-stringed cello, this presents no problems and the performance is technically confident, with intonation up to the mark. The Allemande won me over immediately with its warmth and spontaneity; music being created on the wing. Similarly attractive is the way the cellist crisply articulates the Courante and the Gavottes. There’s joy, exuberance and delight in the swagger of the concluding Gigue. The light, detached bowing and clear textures reveal period performance influence, something the cellist is at pains to stress in the booklet interview.
Eijlander plays a cello by Gaetano Chiocchi (Padua, 1870), which has a rich warm tone. From it he draws plenty of colour. His bow is a Nikolaus Kittel (St. Petersburg, 1860). The spacious, resonant acoustic of the Doopsgezinde Kerk, Haarlem is ideal for this music in allowing contrapuntal lines and detail to be clearly heard and presented to the best advantage. The notes of both volumes feature discussions between Joachim Eijlander and MusicWeb International reviewer Dominy Clements. These focus on the influences that have helped shape the interpretations, and the technical and interpretive challenges the Suites throw up including the ‘scordatura’ re-tuning of the Fifth Suite. I’ll leave the last word to Eijlander: "The suites as a whole are for me the most beautiful pieces of music that were ever composed for cello. I [have] listened over and over to them since I was a young child and I feel that playing the suites [was] the main reason why I wanted to become a professional cellist."