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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Six Suites for Solo Cello
No. 1 in G major, BWV 1007 [20:38]
No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1008 [23:26]
No. 3 in C major, BWV 1009 [26:08]
No. 4 in E flat major, BWV 1010 [27:12]
No. 5 in C minor, BWV 1011 [ 30:13]
No. 6 in D major, BWV 1012 [36:07]
Jean de Spengler (cello)
rec. live, March-May 2018, Chapel of the Château de Lunéville
FORGOTTEN RECORDS FR1575/7 [3 CDs: 163:52]

I know Jean de Spengler’s work as the cellist of Quatuor Stanislas. I have had the good fortune to review two of their recordings on the Timpani label. His latest release, Bach’s Six Cello Suites on Forgotten Records, was set down over the course of three public performances between March and May 2018. Spengler’s notes mention follow-up patching sessions. The venue is the magnificent chapel of the Château de Lunéville, an architectural gem contemporary with the composition of the Suites (1720-1725).

The booklet contains an interesting interview the cellist gave to violinist Alexis Galpérine. He shares fascinating insights into how his thoughts and practices of the Suites have evolved throughout his life as a performer. He studied them with two eminent but very different cellists, André Lévy and André Navarra. At one point he performed the Suites on a cello with gut strings and used a baroque bow, but gradually came to the realization that this was not for him. He justifies his decision to perform the Suites on a modern-sounding instrument, stating that "…the style should not triumph over the content and it is therefore better to play it on a modern instrument if you feel more comfortable on one than on a period cello (built with baroque specifications)".

The catalogue is awash with recordings of the Cello Suites. Some of my favorites are the first cycle by Paul Tortelier, Pierre Fournier’s DG recording and that of a relative newcomer David Watkin, whose cycle on the Resonus Classics label provides a compelling period-instrument account.

Spengler takes a restrained approach in general. Take the Allemande of the First Suite in G major, where he seems to savour and relish each phrase. This is similarly true of the Sarabande where he luxuriates in the resonance and darker hues of the instrument. This works very favourably in the opening measures of the Prelude of the Fifth Suite in C minor. The Sarabande of that Suite evinces a mysterious ruminative and meditative quality. By contrast, the opening of the Third Suite has a bold confidence, as does the Bourrée 1 of the Fourth Suite. Elegance and refinement define the dance movements in Spengler's performances. The Gigues of the Fourth and Sixth Suites, in particular, have an attractive rhythmic lilt. In the livelier movements, and I am thinking particularly of the Courantes and Minuets, there is never a feeling of hurriedness, yet they retain their buoyancy.

Overall, the end result of Spengler’s cycle is gratifying. Intonation is flawless, articulation is clean and tidy, and textures remain clear.

The conducive surroundings of the chapel of the Château de Lunéville provides the perfect backdrop for these captivating masterpieces. I did not detect any audience presence, and applause seems to have been edited out. Much thought has gone into the production of this release. The three discs are lovingly presented in a sturdily manufactured gatefold, which also houses a booklet in French with English translation. Those who, like myself, prefer this music performed on a modern instrument will not be disappointed.

Stephen Greenbank

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