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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Six Suites for Solo Cello
No. 1 in G major, BWV 1007 [11:16]
No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1008 [13:01]
No. 3 in C major, BWV 1009 [14:16]
No. 4 in E flat major, BWV 1010 [18:36]
No. 5 in C minor, BWV 1011 [20:44]
No. 6 in D major, BWV 1012 [21:20]
Saša Večtomov (cello)
rec. 1984, Organ Hall, Rudolfinum, Prague
SUPRAPHON SU4275-2 [38:43 + 60:51]

This cycle of Bach’s Six Cello Suites began life as two LPs, released by Supraphon in 1986, having been recorded two years earlier in Prague. The Czech cellist Saša Večtomov (1930-1989) is hardly a household name, and he’ll be unfamiliar to many. He studied at the Prague Conservatory with his father Ivan Večtomov (1902–81), a cellist and composer who was also a member of the Czech Philharmonic. Next, Saša progressed to the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, where he became a pupil of Ladislav Zelenka. Then he pursued some studies at the Moscow Conservatory under Semen Kozolupov, and it was left to the French cellist André Navarra to apply the finishing touches in his masterclasses at the Accademia Musicale Chigiana.

In addition to a career as a soloist and pedagogue, he established the Suk Trio with Josef Suk (violin) and Jiří Hubička (piano) in 1951. In 1956 he took over from Miloš Sádlo playing cello in the Czech Trio. He could boast a reasonably sized discography, recording for the Supraphon, Panton, and Melodiya labels. Due to his untimely death at the age of only 59, he never attained the stature he deserved.

Večtomov combines all the best elements of the French, Russian and Czech cello schools. He spent several years preparing the Suites for performance, and in 1980 he gave a single recital of the entire cycle from memory. He took them into the studio at Prague's Rudolfinum in the summer of 1984. On first acquaintance with the set, I noticed that the overall timings were far shorter than most of the other recorded cycles I own. I read that Supraphon had originally stipulated that all six Suites had to fit on two LPs. This necessitated dispensing with all repeats, which is what I suspected. Although this is something of a drawback, the high quality of the musicianship more than compensates.

The dance movements give a sense of unbridled joy. Take the concluding Gigue from the First Suite in G major. With Večtomov there’s plenty of upbeat rhythmic bounce, with the articulation falling midway between Tortelier’s (first EMI recording) lithe and Fourniers’ less nimble approach. The same applies to the Courante of the Third Suite, which benefits more from Tortelier’s more supple bowing.

The Sarabandes profit from Večtomov’s penetrating insight, musical communication and feel for the long line. Those from the Third and Fifth Suites are perfect examples. With regard to the latter in C minor, I don’t think anyone has captured the world-weary character and sense of loss to quite the extent that Večtomov does here. It's at moments like this I regret the absence of repeats.

On each occasion that I've listened to this cycle, I feel that I've been taken on a spiritual journey. All in all, Večtomov manages to balance rhythmic buoyancy and flowing lyricism. Yet, there's penetrating depth in the slower more introspective pieces.  The rich burnished-toned instrument used in the recording is a cello made by Alessandro Gagliano in 1712. The Organ Hall,of the  Rudolfinum has the  tiniest bit of reverb, which is both agreeable and confers a degree of intimacy to the ambience. The Czech cellist Jitka Vlašánková shares some personal reminiscences of Večtomov in the booklet, which are very illuminating. I'm immensely grateful that this glorious recording has finally made it to CD after 35 years.

Stephen Greenbank

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