Helen Callus

Bach: Six Cello Suites, on Viola

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It was not long after Pablo Casals began championing the newly discovered Bach Six Suites for solo cello that violists began to adopt the suites as part of their own repertoire. Print editions edited by violists began emerging and soon recordings were being made as well. Viola recordings of the Six Suites are vastly outnumbered by the countless cello versions available, and those violists who have committed their performances to recordings have produced mixed results. This 2011 Analekta disc featuring violist Helen Callus is among the few truly exceptional examples. What distinguishes Callus' playing has as much to do with what she doesn't do as what she does. She does not heavily ornament her playing, nor does she distort the rhythmic dance qualities with overwrought rubato and exaggerated phrasing. Her playing is marvelously simple, straightforward, and unfettered, qualities that are lacking even in most cellists' recordings. Adding to this is Callus' pristine technique and spotless intonation. Her sound is not rich and deep as might be beneficial if playing the Brahms sonatas, but the lighter, focused tone allows for appropriately nimble tempos while maintaining clarity. The only exception to this is in the Sixth Suite, the only suite Callus transposes to a different key (to G major from the original D major). This transposition keeps the music from putting the performer high on the viola's A string where a less attractive sound may result, but creates some moments that are less radiant. Nevertheless, Callus' playing here is first-rate, and her no-nonsense approach to the suites is worthy of all listeners, not just viola fans.

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