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Bach Solo ‘cello Suites


Antonio Meneses (Avie AV0052)
David Kenedy (Signum SIGCD091)


These two recordings are direct competitors with coincidental similarities. Both Meneses and Kenedy were exactly fifty years old at time of recording, both saw the Bach ‘cello suites as a landmark of life, both are best known for their membership of an ensemble, indeed a piano trio (the Beaux Arts and London Trios respectively, Kenedy also for the London Piano Quartet).

Kenedy is consciously intimate, private, his playing possessed of spiritual integrity rather than any sense either of musicology or even public performance. He writes a confessional essay as well as his own notes for the booklet and uses his daughter’s artwork. Meneses is glossy, glitzy, consciously stage-y and well-projected. Although Avie is an artist-driven label, the personal appreciation in the booklet actually comes from the producer/engineer, Simon Fox-Gal, and the notes make no reference to the performance.

Meneses’ tempi are generally brisker than Kenedy’s, and he has a glossier tone, metal rather than Kenedy’s wood. Kenedy emphasises the beat, Meneses the music’s flow. As to interpretations, honours are even, both performers are convincing and it is easy to enter into the sound-world of each after a few movements.

Nor are individual highlights necessarily the expected ones. Kenedy is seen at his best in the tragic Suite No.5, while the cheerfulness of No.6, and in particular its high treble register (it was originally written for a five-string instrument) seems better to suit Meneses. But in the very intimate No.2, it is Meneses who better conveys that sense of Baroque expressivity, just as in No. 3, it is Kenedy who more successfully projects the grandeur. For a direct comparison, the Sarabande of No.4 is extremely instructive, Kenedy is meditative, reflective, expressing human vulnerability, Meneses is almost operatic, declamatory, like the Evangelist in a Passion.

It has been much commented that these two recordings not only appear in a legendarily crowded field, leading off among historic accounts with Casals, but also simultaneously with the Hyperion Isserlis version. Reviewers often comment that listening to Bach performances and recordings leads the listener to appreciate the greatness not of any particular interpreter, but of the composer. This is the case here. Neither recording is ‘authentic’ in the scholarly H.I.P. sense, but both are infused with love of the music.  Both can be heartily recommended.

Ying Chang

See also MP's review of Julius Berger's recording of the Bach Solo ‘cello Suites (Editor)