Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Bach's Cello Suites

Twenty to thirty years ago, I used to enjoy playing the Bach cello suites (on my viola). Speciality was the fourth suite, the prelude to which I always thought of as “the killer”; pretty well every bar has accidentals – sharps, flats, naturals – and you never know what key you are in, from bar to bar, while no two sequential notes appear to be the same. You arrive pretty exhausted at the end, but it's invigorating to play.

I sampled the suites again in the classic recording by Pierre Fournier. Beautifully and smoothly played, but Pablo Casals and I (what a pair!) liked to dig into Bach's notes with more gusto, more personality – and almost certainly less authenticity. Those pedal notes on the C string should be savoured! This is above all music for playing. I never quite understand the fascination of Bach's music; he does not have the melodic genius of Handel, Mozart or Schubert, nor the emotional frissons of Mozart, Schubert et al. But he is indubitably and rightly in everyone and anyone's list of The Three Greatest -- my list included-- (whoever the other two happen to be).

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