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Dip Your Ears, No. 111 (Bach and the Viola Pomposa)

available at Amazon
J.S.Bach, Cello Suites,
Sigiswald Kuijken
Accent 24196

In 1713, the viola pomposa was what all the cool kids played—instead of the not-quite-yet invented (or in any case standardized) violoncello. It’s a bass instrument with four to five strings, apparently not even much smaller than the modern cello, but held against the upper chest or over the shoulder and with a string around the neck to relieve the left hand. For his 60th birthday, Sigiswald Kuijken had one such instrument, also called violoncello da spalla, reconstructed and went right on to unearth the 250 years history of violoncello playing with the result that he conjectures—and I very nearly quote— that it cannot be ruled out that it was impossible that Bach might not have intended the Suites to possibly be played on a violoncello da spalla. Voila: now we have a recording on just that instrument, played in that manner by Mr. Kuijken. (That likely makes Kuijken the first performer to record both the Sonatas & Partitas for Solo Violin and the Cello Suites.)

All that’s not the prelude to mockery, because the record shouldn’t be judged on the basis of the openly uncertain conclusion. Kuijken—unlike elsewhere in the field of historically performed argument on Bach’s style—doesn’t claim that the suites were certainly written for, or only played on, the shoulder cello. He merely suggests, and convincingly in that limited sense, that it might be a possibility. And he delivers the acoustic document to check out that possibility. It’s a document that rises far above being a mere curiosity-demonstration. Even if I am right in presuming that Kuijken didn’t become, in some Platonic-ideal sense, the best possible shoulder cello player over night, his rich and generous sounding instrument (A≈415Hz) and his extraordinarily cheery, enlivening performance are a true pleasure to behold. The tone is beautiful, if not in the conventional cello sense (he ‘milks’ his instrument less); his intonation impeccable (a legitimate concern for vibrato-eschewing HIP performances). The acoustics on the Accent recording are superb—rich enough to give him his instrument some sheen and aura, but not detectable as distance or reverberation. His tempi moderate throughout, if anything marginally on the fast side, since Kuijken never gives in to the temptation of luxuriously lingering. With this recording Kuijken offers something genuinely different, genuinely interesting, and wholly charming: not at all just a curiosity but a keeper.

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. 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]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You might be interested to know that two additional recordings are available of the cello suites played on violoncello da spalla: by Ryo Terakado (on Denon) and by Dmitry Badiarov, the luthier who builds these instruments (on the Ramée label).