Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Six Cello Suites, BWV 1007-1012
Suite No. 1 Revisited (arr. Viggo Mangor for cello, two violins and chamber organ)
Toke Møldrup (cello)
Elisabeth Zeathen Schneider, Kristine Zeuthen Schneider (violins)
Viggo Mangor (chamber organ)
rec. 2015/2017, Hendriksholm Church, Copenhagen BRIDGE 9503A/B [76:48 + 60:14]
One of the great master pieces of the Baroque period is J.S. Bach’s Six Suites for unaccompanied cello. Essentially ignored until the early 20th century, they are now some of the most frequently recorded pieces in the instrument’s repertory.
Aside from the quality of the music, these compositions possess a mystery that challenges all, who aspire to play it. Cellist, Ovidiu Marinescu said of the Cello Suites; ‘Bach’s Cello Suites are a monument of human achievement, and maybe divine inspiration, bigger than any scholar, performer or music lover. In my view the key to understanding them is to be humble and given to discovering new things’.
Unlike the Sonatas and Partitas for violin, no known copy of Bach’s autograph manuscript exists, and we cannot be sure, for which instrument he composed this music. Historically it has been assigned to the cello (played between the legs) but recent research suggest a smaller version played on the shoulder (da spalla), like a violin, is a likely candidate. It is also possible that no specific instrument was designated by Bach, with the player electing from several different instruments within the available group.
To add to all this confusion and speculation, the copy of Bach’s original manuscript by his wife Anna Magdalena differs from three other copies of the period (c 1726-1800). No tempi are specified and interpretive markings are not included. No list of confusion and speculation would be complete without the contribution of Prof. Martin Jarvis, who speculated that the Suites were composed by Anna Magdalena, rather than her husband.
Commercial recordings of the Six Suites have been described as ‘ubiquitous’. Every major cellist since Casals has recorded all or portion of these Suites; János Starker recorded all Suites five times.
While the traditional cello and Baroque cello dominate the field, recordings have also been made on the viola da spalla (violoncello).
The more challenging Sixth Suite was written for a 5-stringed instrument, speculated to be a violon cello piccolo, or viola pomposa. While it can be, and frequently is, played on the standard 4-string cello, technical challenges are exacerbated, and certain multiple stoppings require re-editing to make them playable. The Fifth Suite required the employment of scordatura - a retuning; in this case the A string to be tuned down to G. Most modern editions include an arrangement for standard tuning.
Bach transcribed the Fifth Suite for Lute, BWV 995, and an autograph manuscript is extant.
Arrangements of the Suites for other instruments include violin, viola, double bass, viola da gamba, piano, mandolin, saxophone, standard classical and baritone guitar. The suites have also been arranged for orchestra.
Toke Møldrup was born in 1980 and is one of Denmark’s most renowned cellists. His 20-year- long career was recently acknowledged through receipt of the highly prestigious Queen Ingrid’s Honoury Award. He is also solo cellist with the Copenhagen Philharmonic Orchestra and a sought-after teacher at the Royal Danish Academy of Music. Additionally he pursues a solo concert career abroad and in his native country.
To be successful in a crowded field, one is always searching for meaningful points of difference. Given the number of superb recordings of these masterpieces, it would require a level of excellence, probably unobtainable by even the finest performer, for that point of difference to centre on performance alone. In this particular case an arrangement of the First Suite for two violins, cello and chamber organ is incorporated into the programme, establishing an interesting point of difference. This arrangement works particularly well, and for those familiar with the work it may have an almost eerie feeling on first audition: familiar music but the guise is initially disorientating.
This is a very enjoyable, engaging rendition of the Cello Suites. Most aficionados will have their own favourite version of the music, but exposure to the review recording can only enhance and expand any pre-existing affinity for this work from the hand of a genius; it will also create new devotees. The long-appreciated and understood flexibility of this music is further highlighted by the addition of an ensemble arrangement of the First Suite, this premier recording of which places the review presentation in a unique position.
Toke Møldrup plays a David Tecchler cello (Rome, 1697), and in the 6th Suite a mid-18th century Italian cello rebuilt as a five- string cello in 2016 by Birger Kulmbach.
Suite I in G Major BWV 1007 [15:38]
Suite II in D Minor BWV 1008 [18:50]
Suite III in C Major BWV 1009 [20:22]
Suite IV in E–flat Major BWV 1010 [21:55]
Suite V in C minor BWV 1011 [20:08]
Suite VI in D major BWV 1012 [25:09]
Suite I Revisited
Ensemble arrangement by Viggo Mangor [14:56]
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