Sara Sant'Ambrogio

J.S. Bach: Cello Suites 1, 3 & 5

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The numbers 135 on cellist Sara Sant'Ambrogio's Sebastian Records release Sant'Ambrogio Bach 135 indicate the numbers of the Bach solo cello suites she's doing here: numbers 1, 3, and 5, or BWV 1007, 1009, and 1011, respectively, though she does not perform them in that order. There is a school of thought that dictates young cellists should wait to record the Bach suites as these pieces require a depth of experience, in addition to technical ability, to result in a level of expression worthy of what Johann Sebastian Bach put down on the page. One subscriber to this view was the great Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, who repudiated an early, incomplete cycle he made for Vanguard, revisiting the suites for EMI late in his career. On the other hand, some are of the attitude that even the later Rostropovich set is not a shining example of Rostropovich's playing anyway, and wasn't Pablo Casals himself technically still a "young" cellist at age 39 when he the first -- and still dazzling -- acoustical recordings of Bach's cello suites, in excerpt form, in 1915?

Unfortunately, if there is any recording that confirms the more myopic of these points of view, this is it. Sant'Ambrogio is quite concerned with the continuity of line, and her playing does sing; this aspect of it is not so bad, and if you are already Sant'Ambrogio's fan and don't know the Bach suites very well, then this might sound perfectly fine to you. However, she gets bogged down in the rhythmic aspect of the suites and they never really take wing; overall, the playing sounds earthbound and muddy. As this is "135," one suspects that the cat is out of the bag and "246" remains in the pipeline. One hates to proffer the idea of "come back in 20-30 years and try this again" given Sant'Ambrogio's great enthusiasm for this project and her dedication to Bach, but in the end, Sebastian Records' Sant'Ambrogio Bach 135 seems more like a triumph of marketing rather than one of music.

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