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Bach Cello Suites

available at Amazon
J.S. Bach, Cello Suites,
Jörg Baumann
Warner / Apex
[mp3 avail. for $4]
.com .de .fr

available at Amazon
J.S. Bach, Cello Suites,
Wolfgang Boettcher
[mp3 avail. for $18]
.com .de .fr
Who is Jörg Baumann? From the latest release of his Bach Cello Suites on Warner’s Apex budget label we learn nothing other than that he was a cellist. And that he recorded the Suites for Teldec in Berlin between 1981 and 83. Cursory research yields that he was the Berlin Philharmonic’s solo cellist from 1976 until his death in 1995 at the age of only 55 and one of the founding members of “The 12 Cellists”. Another founding member of that group was Wolfgang Boettcher, a member of the Berlin Philharmonic since 1958 and Baumann’s predecessor as solo cellist from 1963 until 76. That’s a neat coincidence, since I have recordings (re-issues) of both cellists’ take on the Bach Suites in front of me. (For reviews of recent issues like those of Queyras, Lipkind, Isserlis, Gastinel, Sigiswald Kuijken’s performance on the shoulder cello, as well as re-issues of Rostropovich, Fournier, and Maisky on DVD see the links above.)

Jörg Baumann’s recording is a rather conventional reading that stresses beauty over innovation of form, firmly anchored in a world of tastefulness, eschewing extreme—much less erratic—tempos. Well recorded in a dry, but not ungenerous space, the Teldec release must have been fairly impressive in its time, although it apparently never garnered enough fame to have been known to me at all, prior to re-issue. His cello is pitched somewhere above 440Hz—presumably at Berlin Philharmonic standard pitch somewhere in the 446Hz region. Further generalization is difficult with Baumann as well as Boettcher (who is tuned to ~440Hz) because they don’t adhere to any one stylistic route. In the Allemande and Courante of the first Suite, for example, it is Baumann who sets the pace with a neat and crisp pace. The concluding Gigue of the same suite is rather solemn compared to the swiftly dotted and flexibly played way Boettcher has with it. Boettcher plays the Courante from the second Suite similarly: light on its feet but never to the point where his considerably more resonant acoustic would start muddling matters. And in the Sarabande of the same suite it is Boettcher’s turn dig in far beyond what’s necessary to retrieve maximum beauty—he very nearly gets stuck. And Baumann’s tone, uniquely, becomes unlovely in the following Minuet. Given the confident way of Kuijken’s inexorable fiddling (lacking any acoustic ‘trail’), such questions rarely arise with his interpretation.

Nimbus offers fine annotations for their issues; the bear-bones apex issue does not. I particularly like Wolfgang Boettcher’s candid comments on his Bach playing (“…and how my playing has changed in 50 years! That development away from a broad, ‘beautiful’, uniform legato sound to ever more clarity, declamation and diversity… I’ve not always avoided the danger of making too many embellishments but over the years [they] have been simplified to a few suspended notes… and to Sarabandes, where I have made it a rule only to embellish the reprises.” Boettcher praises the excellent acoustic conditions of Wyastone Estate’s Monmouth Hall, confirming what I had a cellist-acquaintance wax about to me just a while ago.

Baumann’s tone is not as consistently beautiful as it should be; even the acoustics seem to vary. I like his unmannered and unfussy approach and his reluctance to dwell. But ultimately his recording is a competitor for a generation of cello suite recordings where—in my book, at least—Pierre Fournier is the undisputed king. And with Fournier, or Starker, of even Schiff, Baumann simply can’t compete—terrific E-flat major Gigue or not. Boettcher is harder to dismiss, because of the superb sound (close to the ‘wet’ side) and because some really lively playing. But Voltaire’s “Le mieux est l’ennemi de bien” strikes Boettcher down. Much as he has recovered from the “broad, ‘beautiful, uniform” style of bygone days, Boettcher still sounds too conventional—and at the same time not gorgeous enough—to seriously challenge the towering excellence of Jean-Guihen Queyras’ recording or the stunningly beautiful virtuosity of Gavriel Lipkind.

The Bach Cello Suites elsewhere on ionarts:

Just What Are the Bach Cello Suites? [Pandolfo, Cocset]
Solo Bach Cello Suites [Ma, Haimovitz]
Dip Your Ears, No. 4 [Wispelwey]
Dip Your Ears, No. 25 [Fournier]
Dip Your Ears, No. 111 [S.Kuijken, Viola Pomposa]
Dip Your Ears, No. 145 [Vogler]
Bach Cello Suites [Baumann, Boettcher]
● The Cello Suites, Bach I [Maisky, DVD]
● The Cello Suites, Bach II [Rostropovich, Fournier, Isserlis, Harnoncourt]
● The Cello Suites, Bach III [Gastinel, Queyras, Lipkind]
● The Cello Suites, Bach IV [Klinger]
● CD Pick & Recent Releases [Bailey]

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