J.S. BACH: Cello Suites, Vol. 1: Suites 1-3 / Amit Peled, cel / CTM Classics (no number)
Scheduled for release on February 1, 2019, this is the first recording of these suites on Pablo Casals’ 1733 Goffriller cello since Casals’ own recording in 1936. This is a recording I’ve never liked; although I realize that he was the pioneer in our time of performing these works, his playing is, for the most part, monotonous, sounding as if he was sawing wood.
Yet although Casals’ own recording has not held up well, his cello has, and here Amit Peled gives us an extremely fine reading of these difficult works in outstanding digital sound.
Peled draws a fine, rich tone on the instrument and although I disagree with his decision to use straight tone consistently (it’s not historic, folks, sorry to burst your bubble) his is a real interpretation, using interesting touches of rubato and rallentando effects throughout in order to give the music more interest than just playing them like a metronome.
Although my favorite recordings of these suites are the ones by Yehuda Hanani (Town Hall) and Zuill Bailey (Telarc), I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Peled’s interpretations. In a few places, I felt the rubato was a bit too much, as it detracted from the music’s structure. When you have an audio edifice built up as carefully and meticulously as Bach did, extending the length of too many notes within that structure comes dangerously close to weakening it, but thankfully such moments were rare.
Whereas Bailey took the music in a rather straightforward manner but added a hypnotic tone and wonderful lyricism, and Hanani played a bit with the rhythmic accents, Peled seemed to me to be taking a sort of midway approach. Happily, in faster pieces such as the first suite’s “Courante,” he dispensed with rubato and stayed on the straight path to great effect. And it is clearly a pleasure to hear these suites played on this instrument, which Peled has been using for some time now.
One thing I especially liked in his playing was its fluidity. Too many HIP cellists nowadays play in a style I’d characterize as choppy; they seem to think that legato phrasing wasn’t invented in the 18th century. Peled puts this to rest. Even in the quick movements, he clearly has a lyric continuity in each and every phrase. The overall feeling I get from this recording is one of lyrical elasticity—and elasticity is what was missing from Casals’ own recording of these works. He also has a nice penchant for making the music dance, i.e. in the first suite’s “Menuet I & II.” I’ve long felt that Bach scores based on dance music of his time should indeed dance, and not sound like lumbering or lurching forward. Amit is light-footed and charming in such moments.
Very often in projects such as this, the use of a past musician’s instrument can almost seem like a gimmick, but Peled is thoroughly comfortable with this Goffriller, thus making it sound like his own. This is a subtle but important distinction. I also noted, while listening, that some of the rich low-range effects that Casals achieved on his old recordings were due in large measure to this instrument’s tone. The bottom end of the instrument has a particularly full, round sound that I think must carry well in live performance.
All in all, this is a very fine recording of the cello suites. I’m not sure why CTM Classics chose to release only the first three, however. If you like Peled’s approach to the music, you’d obviously want to hear all six of them, not just the first half. Otherwise, an excellent release.
—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley
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