Bach: The Cello Suites

Angela East

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Bach: The Cello Suites Review

by Blair Sanderson

To say that Angela East's interpretations of J.S. Bach's six unaccompanied Cello Suites are out of the mainstream may be an understatement because she not only performs them on a Baroque period cello and follows a manuscript copied out by Anna Magdalena Bach, she also takes certain liberties of tempo and expression that make this set unlike any that came before. East also attaches visual imagery (suggested by some mildly humorous photographs of the cellist in the liner notes) and assigns color values to the music in a kind of synaesthesia that can only be regarded as subjective and impossible to communicate through an audio CD. Still, all of the factors that contribute to the eccentricity of this Red Priest Recordings double-disc also make it one of the most interesting and challenging renditions of the suites to come along in ages. In a market filled with interpretations that vie for comparisons with the legendary sets by Pablo Casals or Pierre Fournier, here is a refreshing performance that goes its own peculiar way, and East is intellectually and expressively free to follow only Bach, wherever she thinks he leads. This will not be to everyone's taste, though, because she sometimes goes slowly when the music is expected to be fast, as in the opening Prelude of the Suite No. 1 in G major and pulls off some extraordinary surprises with rubato and sudden tempo changes that may or may not work for some listeners. Be that as it may, some of what seems odd and original about East's performance may be traced back to Anna Magdalena Bach's copy, which include unusual phrasing marks and accents that differ substantially from the published music. Have these given East license to be unorthodox? While such matters are usually left to the scholars to hash out, listeners may well appreciate the freshness and fearlessness of East's recording simply by comparing it with its predecessors. It's not for everybody, but that may be the secret of its success.

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