JS BACH Six Solo Cello Suites, BWV1007-1012
The reverence with which some cellists choose to treat Bach’s Cello Suites can produce results that disappear in opposite directions: some are simply rendered insipid, while others disregard accepted forms of performance with a belligerence that can place an equally frustrating barrier between listener and performer. Although Matt Haimovitz stops far short of that latter self-indulgence, his second recording of the Suites is not one for the faint-hearted. There are spontaneity and unpredictability in both the tempi and rubato of the entirety of the first three Suites – in particular the Preludes of the First and Third – which rob them of any sense of direction to the extent of romanticising Bach’s clean counterpoint to a degree that some might find cloying.
The tides begin to turn with the palate-cleansing Fourth Suite, however. The tension built up in the first three Suites should be released at this point, and in this performance there is far more of a sense of the dance element that should inform all the Suites but which is particularly important here. Haimovitz brings a beguiling lightness to the line that propels the listener from the sunny serenity of the Prelude to the moto perpetuo of the final Gigue, despite the deceptively complicated harmonic structure of that Suite as a whole. This, in turn, allows the almost preternatural control he displays in the Sarabande of the Fifth Suite to unravel it with all the desolation of a melodic line that has no hint of that previous complexity, and create the impact it should – as a profound statement of emotional isolation.
Despite the excessive mannerism of the first three Suites, this collection achieves a genuine elegance that, although hard-won, is worth the investment. Those seeking beauty for beauty’s sake may want to look elsewhere (to Philip Higham’s simple and direct version, for instance, or the superlative reading by David Watkin, both of 2015), but those who want to be challenged without compromising tone or tuning, both of which are impeccable here, should look no further.