Sunday, April 6, 2008

Bach: The Cello Suites

Surprisingly little is known about Bach's Cello Suites. It's unclear when Bach composed them and there isn't even a definitive manuscript.
Jian Wang, cello
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750 )
Six Cello Suites
Deutsche Grammophon, 2005

In fact, the popularity of these amazing works is due to the singular coincidence of famous Catalan cellist Pau Casals finding an edition of the suites in a thrift shop.

Casals probably did more than anyone else towards popularizing these works (he made the first complete recording of the cello suites in the mid 1930s), and today the cello suites are seen by many as the greatest works ever composed for a solo instrument.

These suites sound profoundly difficult to play (of course I'm saying this with zero knowledge of how to play a cello), but the music doesn't have the many-layered complexity of what you'd typically expect from a Bach composition. The pieces are simple and elegant, and they are beautiful, inspiring and calming to listen to.

I encourage you to listen carefully to this unique work of music. I promise you it will be time well spent.

If you're interested, below is a link to the famous Casals recordings remastered for CD. I wouldn't bother buying the Jian Wang disc that I have in my collection (listed above). Wang's performance seems capable (at least to this non-cello playing amateur), but his playing is at times muddy, and he makes occasional technical errors that can be distracting upon close listening. If I had it to do over again, I'd buy the Casals performance.

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