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Echoes of Bach
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Prelude in G major from Cello Suite 1 BWV 1007 [2:55]
Allemande in D minor from Cello Suite 2 BWV 1008 [3:49]
Courante in C major from Cello Suite 3 BWV 1009 [3:26]
Sarabande in D major, from Cello Suite 6 BWV 1012 [2:26]
Bourrées from Cello Suites 4, 5 BWV 1010, 1011 [2:57]
Gigue in D major from Cello Suite 6 BWV 1012 [4:25]
Sarabande in G major from Cello Suite 1, BWV 1007 [2:40]
György LIGETI (1923-2006)
Sonata for Solo Cello (1948-53) Movement 1 [3:24]: Movement 2 [4:41]
Ahmed Adnan SAYGUN (1907-1991)
Partita for Solo Cello, Movement 4 (1955) [3:58]
Domenico GABRIELLI (1651-1690)
Ricercar No. 1, Movement 1 [2:16]
Giovanni SOLLIMA (b.1962)
Citarruni, from Silkroad's Taranta Project [2:59]
Mike Block (cello)
rec. Dimension Sound Studios, Boston

Mike Block is a member of The Silk Road Ensemble, established by Yo-Yo Ma in the late 1990s. The cross-cultural currents that inform the ensemble also inform Block’s music selection; a bedrock of Bach but juxtaposed with (largely, not exclusively) movements from post-war solo cello works. No work is played complete. These are, as it were, fragments shored up against time in which juxtaposition suggests lineage and tradition as well as infiltration and expansion of both style and technique.

It was Yo-Yo Ma who, when he heard Block practicing, suggested he go back to the source and immerse himself in the Bach works he had first played years before. He has selected individual movements from the cello suites – a Prelude from here, an Allemande from there – all of which reflect one of the dance movements encoded in the suites and thus also include a Courante, Sarabande, Bourées and a Gigue. Hence, of course, the title of the album, Echoes of Bach.

Block is nothing if not an individualist. The Prelude in G major from the First Suite is pulled about unmercifully, with barking low notes and a bar-by-bar approach that suggests quasi-improvisation. He plays the Sarabande from the same suite as the disc’s envoi but does so wholly pizzicato; quite why I can’t say, and neither does he in his notes, though I assume the soft thrumming is another way of co-opting the music into a new realm. The other isolated Bach movements are not as extreme but throughout he prefers a sense of metrical fluctuation and highlighting of certain detail that doesn’t always convince. The jollity he finds in the Bourées, however, is pleasing and uplifting. He also proves an intense interpreter of Gabrielli’s Ricercar No.1.       

Stylistically he is on firmer ground in the contemporary repertoire. He is good in Ligeti’s brooding grandeur and in particular in the dramatic attacks and Bachian allusions of the second movement of the Sonata. He plays the fourth movement of Saygun’s Partita with richly intoned authority and performs Giovanni Sollima’s Citarruni, from the Taranta Project, a Silkroad commission that proves to be a rocky supercharged opus, percussive and exciting.

Housed in a slim card gatefold this space-saving disc offers intriguing perspectives and is well enough recorded with genial notes from the cellist himself. If your idea of the cello suites is incarnated on disc by Casals, Tortelier, Navarra or Fournier than you may well find Block very much not to your taste, but then he is presenting personalised views of single movements in a contextualised kind of way. Next time, I have to say, as an old fogey, I’d prefer something from him a little more conventional – like a whole sonata.

Jonathan Woolf


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