J.S. Bach: Six Suites for Solo Cello

Pablo Casals

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J.S. Bach: Six Suites for Solo Cello Review

by Blair Sanderson

Pablo Casals recorded J.S. Bach's 6 Cello Suites for EMI between 1936 and 1939 in London and Paris, and these legendary recordings have been in print for many decades without break. There is a mystique attached to these performances that overrides any minor defects of reproduction, and students of these works repeatedly turn to this cellist, who essentially rescued the suites from the tedium of the practice room and presented them to the world as fully fledged works of invention and virtuosity. Casals' freedom of phrasing and playfulness with rhythm make the music feel spontaneous and often intensely lyrical, and the quality of interpretation approaches recitative, insofar as Bach's lines at times receive an almost vocal expression. Since Casals' day, the Cello Suites have been played in many ways, including efforts to play them in an authentic Baroque manner, as well as more Romantic attempts at individual expression, but Casals still seems to be the standard against which other performances are measured, and these recordings are indispensable to any serious collector. While the reproduction is extraordinarily clear in these digitally remastered recordings, there remain patches of noise and a thinning of tone that seems to be the result of removing analog hiss. Even so, this is still a phenomenal set compared to other recordings made in the 1930s, and the value of the music trumps any roughness or weakness of sound.

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