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J S Bach 6 Suites for cello - Julius Berger

Against initial expectations (the Bach suites are performed and broadcast too often and every cellist feels bound to record them) we found ourselves entranced by Julius Berger's performances, listened to through a week, one a day.

Even if you have several versions of Bach's cello suites in your CD collection, including Casals benchmark pioneering recording from the '30s (Naxos 811091516, remastered) this one is worth considering. Berger studied them over many years, and pondered whilst working with contemporary composers, wondering if the thinking of such as Hosokawa, Cage, Gubaidulina and Hindemith might bring him closer to 'Bach's visionary point of departure'.

Sofia Gubaidulina and Julius Berger

Berger is fluent and joyful overall, fleet in the courantes, expressive but not over-romanticised in the sarabands. I am not minded to indulge myself in pontificating about other interpretations. As a warning against dogmatism, it has been salutary to read an article about 18 C performance practice which throws doubt upon reverence for the sanctity of notated texts, and suggests that even advocates of period performance have led themselves astray; recordings of modern jazz and popular singers may be better guides than 'urtext' editions ! (Toft, Music and Letters, August 2004, pp.368-387)

The outcome of Berger's wide ranging explorations is an account of the suites as good as any of the many, with the huge advantage that it is presented in a book-style package which is as beautiful and thought provoking as any confined to the restrictive dimensions imposed by CDs; a small work of art which is a joy to handle.

The cover picture by Masanori Taki is composed of Chinese symbols for reason and emotion. Inside there is a series of evocative 'score images' of the first prelude by Linda Schwarz. That reproduced here is a calligraphic approximation of the progression of the pitches; three others are pictorial transformations and superimpositions of the same music. There are photos of Berger and his instruments, demonstrations of tempo relationships and quotes from Bach's contemporaries about the character of the music.



For Julius Berger live and on CD see http://www.musicalpointers.co.uk/reviews/liveevents/TwoStabatMaters_in_Zurich.htm




For a typical comparative review see

© Peter Grahame Woolf