Tanya Tomkins

Bach: Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello

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Cellist Tanya Tomkins is American and is based in the San Francisco Bay area, probably the site of the U.S.'s most fertile early music scene. She lived in the Netherlands for 14 years, however, and this historically oriented recording of Bach's Six Suites for unaccompanied cello could qualify as state of the art in the historical-performance heartland of northwestern Europe. In five of the six suites Tomkins uses an instrument that is not precisely the promised Baroque cello: an instrument made in London in 1798. But it is closer to the instruments Bach would have known than to a modern cello, and Tomkins tunes it to a'=415 Hz and apparently uses an old bow, the characteristic ease of the suites' numerous double- and triple-stopped passages on the historical cello is fully exploited, and the music just seems to "sweat" less than on a modern instrument. For the Suite No. 6 in D major, BWV 1012, Tomkins opts for full authenticity, performing it on a copy of a five-string cello from 1699, the instrument for which Bach originally intended the work, although it can be and usually is performed on a four-string cello. She takes the questionable step of inserting a freshly composed (by Eric Zivian) Double into the Sarabande of that suite, however. Tomkins exemplifies current trends in her application of full-blooded, expressive readings to the historical-instrument context. She does not belabor the preludes and sarabandes but has a lovely way of letting the exoticism of the multiple stops emerge and carry the load. The faster movements acquire a good deal of muscle as they proceed, and Tomkins pushes the tempo in ways that link these pieces to the German solo virtuoso tradition. She effectively reorders the works -- there is no reason to suppose that Bach would necessarily have wanted them performed in the order in which they were published -- and the familiar Suite No. 1 in G major, BWV 1007, comes last, creating a feeling of settling into peace after considerable drama. A strong recording all around of these often-played suites, with original contributions.

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