Steven Isserlis

Bach: Cello Suites

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One could, as cellist Steven Isserlis evidently does, consider Bach's six suites for solo cello to possess a hidden "inner" program following the Joyful, the Sorrowful, and the Glorious Mysteries of the Christian faith. One could thus hear the First Suite as the Nativity, the Fifth Suite as the Crucifixion, and the Sixth Suite as the Resurrection -- or not, depending on one's aesthetic tastes and spiritual inclinations. But whether with or without an "inner" program, these performances of the suites are still completely convincing. It's true that Isserlis isn't interested in showing off his technique; although his playing is essentially flawless, it never calls attention to itself the way, say, Yo-Yo Ma's playing sometimes does. And it's true that Isserlis isn't obsessed with wringing every last drop of emotion out of every note; although his playing is wonderfully expressive, it never drips feeling the way, say, Mischa Maisky's does. What Isserlis is interested in, and perhaps even obsessed with, is the intense beauty of the music. Rarely have the preludes sounded so free and so fantastic; rarely have the minuets sounded so light and so bright; and rarely have the sarabandes, especially the Sarabande of the Fifth Suite, sounded so deep and so true. While anyone interested in the suites -- and that should include everyone who loves Bach, everyone who loves cello music, and everyone who loves music -- should first hear the classic recordings by Pablo Casals, this collection of the suites, augmented with three different versions of the opening Prelude from three different sources plus an arrangement of the Catalan folk song "The Song of the Birds" in Casals' honor, certainly deserves to be heard, particularly in Hyperion's warm, close, and full recordings.

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