Karine Georgian / Gary Cooper

Bach: Six Suites for Solo Cello; Three Sonatas for Viola da Gamba & Harpsichord

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The program immediately sets this apart from the dozens (or hundreds) of recordings of Bach's six suites for solo cello on the market; at the risk of turning a common two discs into an unwieldy three, Russian-British cellist Karine Georgian appends the three sonatas for viola da gamba and keyboard, BWV 1027-1029, to the solo cello sonatas. Bach's sonatas for solo cello, and the sonatas and partitas for solo violin, have roots in distinct phases of his musical background, and their seemingly inward, intellectual qualities are usually emphasized in performance, all the more so since the discovery of murky numerological qualities in the music. Georgian goes in a different direction, one that makes the cello sonatas fit logically with the gamba works. In a nutshell, she treats the dance rhythms designated by the suites' individual movement titles as true performance directions rather than jumping-off points for virtuoso freedoms or intellectual essays. These are light, airy suites for solo cello, just about as far as can be imagined from the Pablo Casals version that older listeners grew up on, or, as Georgian herself points out in the included booklet interview (given in English, German, and French), from the muscular Rostropovich-dominated sounds of her own Russian training. It was hearing the early music performances of Nikolaus Harnoncourt, she says, that formed the turning point, and indeed her style is of the group that are influenced by historical performance. She does not use a true Baroque instrument or bow (although, she points out, her cello was made in 1730), but her playing feels of a piece between the cello and gamba sonatas and accomplishes the considerable feat of making the two hang together. She is aided by brisk accompaniment from harpsichordist Gary Cooper (betcha didn't know) and by pleasant, low-key sound from the always innovative Somm label. "Lively" is not a word often associated with Bach's suites for solo cello, but listeners may like them this way.

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