JS BACH Six Solo Cello Suites, BWV1007-1012 (Juliana Soltis; Mike Block)

Record and Artist Details

Genre:

Instrumental

Label: Bright Shiny Things

Media Format: CD or Download

Mastering:

DDD

Catalogue Number: BTSC0132

BTSC0132. JS BACH Six Solo Cello Suites, BWV1007-1012 (Mike Block)

Tracks:

Composition Artist Credit
(6) Suites (Sonatas) for Cello Mike Block
Step into the Void Barry Rothman
Mike Block

Genre:

Instrumental

Label: King Street

Media Format: CD or Download

Mastering:

DDD

Catalogue Number: 001

001. JS BACH Six Solo Cello Suites, BWV1007-1012 (Juliana Soltis)

Tracks:

Composition Artist Credit
(6) Suites (Sonatas) for Cello Juliana Soltis

These releases’ provocative titles suggest that Juliana Soltis and Mike Block are about to knock Bach’s Cello Suites off their iconic pedestal. Not quite, although both musicians approach their respective Bach Cello Suite cycles from very different creative angles.

Soltis prefaces her set with a written warning/apologium about her ‘ornamented cello suites’, in the hope that no one will rescind her academic degrees. While the baroque cellist liberally doles out embellishments and cadenzas, her emendations fold into the scores comfortably and tastefully. It is in matters of rhythm, however, where Soltis’s individual, iconoclastic and occasionally eccentric profile comes into play.

In Suite No 1’s Prelude, for example, Soltis distends phrases with an unpredictable ebb and flow, where elongated bass notes represent harmonic signposts. At measure 31 she begins the stretto passage slowly, in the manner of a train embarking from a depot and gradually gaining speed.

Soltis’s Allemandes project a melodically conversational discourse that work overtime to sidestep bar lines and accented down-beats. She also takes a less declamatory pose than most in No 3’s Prelude. In contrast to the suave timbral modulations that baroque cellists such as Ophélie Gaillard bring to the Sarabandes, Soltis breaks up the lines into moody mosaics, where low notes emit raspy mumbles and melodic peaks are threadbare yet oddly expressive. Think of late-period Marlon Brando or Billie Holiday and you’ll understand Soltis’s expressive game plan.

At times, Soltis falls victim to her creativity. She overloads the Bourées’ embellishments and emphatic accents to the point where they distract from the music’s buoyant charm. I also suspect that Soltis changes her articulation on nearly every downward pattern throughout No 4’s Prelude because she can, rather than that she must. The same critique applies to the Gigue, which soon bogs down in detail after a promisingly supple start. I can imagine that some might find her audible breathing a distraction, although it didn’t especially bother me. In the end, her serious musicianship and inquiring mind shed fascinating and often stimulating light on these works.

Mike Block’s multifaceted, genre-bending artistry has graced Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble for years, not to mention a dizzying array of high-profile cross-stylistic collaborations. Yet he’s long been grounded in Bach, and ‘grounded’ is the operative word regarding his interpretations. One immediately notices Block’s smooth bowing and seamless integration of registers, along with his consistently spot on intonation. Indeed, the selected movements that Block recorded for his 2018 solo release ‘Echoes of Bach’ (2/19US) benefit from the cellist’s further refinements and simplifications, although he now leaves out repeats.

Compare, for instance, the earlier, more self-conciously phrased G major Prelude and D minor Allemande to their more direct and understated counterparts here. Block also conveys a stronger sense of the music’s dance origins than Soltis; in fact, I’ve rarely heard the Suite No 6 Prelude’s earthy lilt unfold to Block’s supple degree. At the same time, Block is not averse to roughening up his tone for dramatic effect, as in Suite No 5’s Courante.

However, I suspect that Block’s fan base will prefer the third disc, which features six extended improvisations, each based on a respective Bach suite movement. Here Block lets down his creative guard, deftly free-associating jazz, pop, baroque and hip hop styles in cahoots with turntable maestro Barry Rothman.

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