JS BACH Six Solo Cello Suites, BWV1007-1011
The recording catalogue is filled with performances of Bach’s Cello Suites in all sorts of interpretative guises. Many tend towards Romantic effusion while others go for leaner, more rhetorically subtle approaches. The Australian cellist Richard Narroway avoids extremes on his new disc of the six suites and in doing so contributes an individual and riveting account to the long list of distinguished takes on some of Bach’s most personal ideas.
Narroway plays the suites on a modern cello, even as he reveals a keen grasp of historical performance practices. He uses vibrato only to colour certain notes, allowing much of the music to emerge with understated grandeur. Every movement comes across as an adventure in expressive possibility. Narroway builds and connects phrases in ways that point out the endless implications of the music, whether Bach’s dances move on the tips of their feet or probe philosophical corners.
The cello is a messenger of exhilarating and pensive authority in Narroway’s hands. Rhythms crackle with energy and clarity when the music suggests these qualities. In the longest phrases, Narroway maintains a fine balance between tension and release, which has the effect of keeping the listener eager to hear what will happen next.
The cellist rises to greatest heights in the sarabandes, especially in the Third Suite, where the music – at once grave and noble – requires a kind of mature patience that challenges every interpreter, regardless of age or approach. Narroway, only in his mid-twenties, honours Bach with artistry of captivating sensitivity.