Bach: Cello Suites (CD review)

Six Suites for Solo Cello. Zuill Bailey, cello.  Telarc TEL-31978-02 (two-disc set).

"I was unaware of the depths of the music as a young person, but came to realize that there are so many ways of interpreting Bach that it channels where a cellist is at that precise moment. It has become such a personal journey for me."
--Zuill Bailey

Bach's Suites for unaccompanied cello are quite extraordinary, and they might well be familiar even to listeners not acquainted with much of the composer's music. After all, we've heard the material used in films and television commercials, Bach himself even reusing some of the tunes for a few of his other instrumental works. There are only a handful of recordings of all six Suites available, though (Rostropovich, Mork, Schiff, Isserlis, Fournier, to name a few), so it's welcome having another as good as this one.

The Suites comprise six movements each of dance-like character, and they are remarkable for Bach's ability to make a single instrument sound like several, with melody and accompaniment, a feat cellist Zuill Bailey pulls off as well as Bach might have liked. Of course, we must also credit Telarc's sound engineers here, too, for capturing all the nuances of the music and the performances.

Bailey's interpretations and playing are certainly heartfelt enough and grip the listener from the first note to last. Admittedly, however, I did not listen to them straight through; that might have been a long haul, and I doubt that Bach expected anybody to play them all at one sitting (although there is some evidence of the interconnections among the pieces, so, who knows, maybe Bach did want them played consecutively). Anyway, I listened to them two Suites at a time and found them delightful.

Joyous, meditative, lyrical, sorrowful, amiable, exuberant, swaggering, solemn, and regal by turns, the Suites provide a little something for everyone, and Bailey projects all of their many moods in what is probably the best-sounding recording of the works currently available.

Telarc have arranged the layout of the Suites three to a disc, with numbers one, three, and five on disc one. That makes sense, I suppose, since numbers one and three are among the most popular of the pieces. More important, Telarc afford the cello a firm, warm, rich sound, without being in any way hard or brittle. What's even more, the engineers nicely capture the soft acoustic bloom of the recording venue, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York. The cello, an original 1693 Matteo Gofriller, does appear a trifle close, but the sound is without a doubt vivid.

Altogether, another fine recording from Telarc and another fine performance from a man who clearly loves his Bach.


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Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For over 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me--point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

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I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

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