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.

JJP

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

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.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa