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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello (1717-23)
No. 1 in G major, BWV 1007 [15:03]
No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1008 [16:22]
No. 3 in C major, BWV 1009 [14:58]
No. 4 in E flat major, BWV 1010 [19:29]
No. 5 in C minor, BWV 1011 [22:41]
No. 6 in D major, BWV 1012 [20:21]
Jean-Max Clément (cello)
rec. 13-14 May 1958
ELOQUENCE 4828523 [46:53 + 62:39]

After languishing in the vaults for many years, Jean-Max Clément’s recording of the Bach Cello Suites has suddenly, and unexpectedly, re-emerged in triplicate. Forgotten Records have restored it in a CD twofer and it’s also available in a vinyl LP edition, of which 2,000 copies have been pressed in Germany: this 180g edition can be had for $43 or so. Then again if neither of these restorations appeals – Forgotten Records’ transfers are customarily excellent – here it is again on an Eloquence twofer.

Clément recorded the set in May 1958 and L’Oiseau-Lyre SOL 60017/7 was first issued in 1960. If you are looking for it in original LP form, you will know it costs a packet, though not quite as much as the recording on the Lumen label by Clément’s older contemporary, André Levy, which will cost you the proverbial arm and leg.

Clément (born 1907) taught for a number of years at the École Normale de Musique in Paris and at the time of this Bach recording was principal cello of the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic. This is where Beecham heard him, immediately inviting him to London. Thus, in November 1959 the cellist duly performed the Concerto militaire of Offenbach with Beecham, a work Clément had unearthed from manuscripts held by Offenbach’s grandson. The Times’ reviewer admired the sweetness of the cellist’s playing as well as his ‘hyper-sensitive fastidiousness’ adding that though his tone was small it was of ‘rare beauty and refinement’. High praise indeed.

Clément was graced with a good acoustic – neither too clinical nor too billowing; focused but sympathetic. He eschews repeats and plays with considerable metrical flexibility in all the Preludes. His tempi are slower than normally encountered today, and he doesn’t attempt to turn the suites into explicit dance works. There is a more patrician element at work, where prominent but sparingly deployed portamentos and tonal variety are active agents in the music making. His tone is warm and occasionally sonorous, though rarely declamatory. There are plosive moments, such as in the Courante of the Suite No.2 but he remains an expressively discreet exponent whilst ensuring that Bourées, for example, receive sufficient momentum and the Sarabandes are of some depth. Only very occasionally does he sound strained and this is largely confined to Suite No.6, where intonation is occasionally problematic, but this is a work that taxes almost everyone.

There is a great tradition of French performances of the suites on disc, from Lévy, Fournier, Gendron, Tortelier, Navarra and other distinguished exponents onwards. This handsome restoration, with judicious and thoughtful notes by Peter Quantrill, reveals Clément’s performance to have been personal and convincing, moving, and technically accomplished.

Jonathan Woolf

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