Rachel Podger

J.S. Bach: Cello Suites

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Baroque violinist Rachel Podger is right that Bach's output is riddled with transcriptions, and that the same is true of the performance history of his works. Hence, she is on solid historical ground here, with at least the first five of Bach's six Suites for Solo Cello, BWV 1007-1012. The Suite No. 6 for solo cello, BWV 1012, is a different story: the work was written for a five-string cello, giving it a range that puts it out of reach of any violin, Baroque or otherwise. This one was accomplished with studio trickery, which has its place, but is intrusive here. Another complaint is the cavernous recital hall sound in what is manifestly chamber music. For the most part, though, Podger is enjoyable to listen to here. She makes the cello suites, for the most part, into violin music; putting some zip into the faster dances so they avoid the more deliberate mood of the cello. Her vivacious style comes through in movements like the Bourrée from the Suite for solo cello No. 4 in E flat major, BWV 1010. The slower dances are by no means unpleasant, but here the transformation is a bit less successful. Part of the appeal of the cello suites is that they are among those works, like Beethoven's Ninth, that lie at the limits of performers' capabilities. Here those limits are not a question of the voice, or the speed of the fingers, but of the capability of a cello to realize the implied polyphony in Bach's music. On a Baroque violin there is not the same kind of struggle. Nevertheless, Podger fans will find plenty to like here.

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