Performing transcriptions of the Suites was key to pursuing a career as a viola player
Violist Antoine Tamestit recently recorded transcriptions of Bach's Cello Suites, BWV1007-1012 for Naïve. Volume 1, featuring Suites Nos 1, 3 and 5 was released in February 2013.
When I discovered Bach’s Cello Suites at the age of 10, they were such a revelation to me that I asked my violin teacher of the time if I could change instruments and switch to the cello. Having convinced me that, in that case, I would have to relearn virtually the entire technique of the instrument, she had the idea of showing me a viola and playing it for me. Another revelation, and love at first sight! After just a few days I put viola strings on my little violin, which sounded so deep, especially on the C string, that I felt the vibrations through my whole body. Since then I have never regretted choosing the viola, especially as I very soon had the opportunity to play transcriptions of those very Cello Suites. It was such a joy to me that I spent weeks just playing by ear a few bars of certain movements and begged my teachers to let me work on them. In short, these Suites may well have been my first and most important musical emotion. They accompanied me throughout my career, and I have always returned to them with as much respect as instinctive pleasure, considering them afresh each time with new eyes and ears. Like a fairy tale heard or read as a child, which we can recite 20 years later in all its naïvety but consciously savouring every word, every detail.
The process of recording was a great joy as well as an enormous amount of work. But I felt lucky above everything else to have two important people accompanying me in this: the producer Stephan Cahen, and my wife Eliette Prévot, as personal artistic advisor. Stephan Cahen has been my favourite producer so far, as he was not only technically amazing, but a truly wonderful person with whom to discuss music. I felt as if I was conversing with the best chamber music colleague, and able to describe the most detailed musical colours or sound refinements. But I also valued my wife’s presence enormously, as it seemed to me that especially in Bach one needs an outside ear, and yet a personally close one, as this music above all is open to so many choices. It was as if my wife during those days was a reasonable, impartial, yet positively inspiring version of myself.
And now two short anecdotes, a stressful one and a funnier one, which took place during the last session, while recording the great Fifth Suite in C minor:
1. My baroque bow’s hair completely disconnected from the tip just before the first take! We lost a few precious hours, but the luthier that came urgently helped repair it and eased my stress…
2. The producer was apparently amazed with my footwork during the sessions. It is true that I was, and am, very interested and focused on the dance aspect of Bach's Cello Suites. And as a musician I always felt music running through my body, not being able to really control that, but even needing this aspect to feel it and live it fully. Therefore my feet kept stomping the important beats and bars of each dance, or ‘launching’ me into the beginning of a Bourrée or a Gavotte. Stephan Cahen said that next time, instead of trying to erase these noises in post-production, he would install a microphone close to my feet, like Michael Jackson’s producer used to do! A funny comment, as the King of Pop was my first ever idol, even before I started playing an instrument.
Listen to Antoine Tamestit's recording of the Courante from Bach's Cello Suite No 3 on the Gramophone Player below: