Suites for Cello Solo BWV 1007-1012
Robert Cohen (Cello)
Review: Cello Suites by Robert Cohen
No. 1 in G major BWV 1007 [19.19]
No. 3 in G major BWV 1009 [26.29]
No. 5 in G major BWV 1011 [24.57]
No. 2 in G major BWV 1008 [20.01]
No. 4 in G major BWV 1010 [23.17]
No. 6 in G major BWV 1012 [30.38]
Robert Cohen (cello)
2-CD / TT: 145:54
Kirk McElhearn wrote (June 28, 2001):
Bach's cello suites are arguably the greatest works ever written for solo cello. Recorded by any cellist worth his salt, these works contain some of the most poignant and emotional music Bach ever wrote.
Robert Cohen has chosen to record these suites at relatively slow tempi, and plays all repeats. His reading of these works is highly personal, and his flexibility concerning tempi can be a bit disturbing at first - in some movements he plays the repeats much slower than the first expositions. Nevertheless, this gives this version a unique individuality that many other cellists lack. Cohen plays the music without showing off; it is clear that he is interested in the inner music that lies under the surface of these works.
Cohen plays the preludes with a freedom that mirrors their improvisatory nature. These movements are all less structured than the other parts of the suites, and call for a performance that reflects this. Cohen seems not to be married to his tempi, and takes many liberties in the preludes, but, in most case, his choices are judicious. The long melancholy prelude of the 5th suite resounds here in all its darkness, as Cohen plays it slowly and deliberately, yet forcefully as well. The first section of this movement, almost lugubrious, contrasts well with the second, more rhythmic section.
He is very expressive in the slower movements, the allemandes and sarabandes, which are some of Bach's most poignant instrumental movements. However, his slow tempi do not always work - the sarabande of the 1st suite sounds just a bit too slow, and the melodic structure seems a bit fragmented as a result of this. But the haunting sarabande of the 3rd suite takes on new colours at this slow tempo, as Cohen allows the notes at the ends of phrases to decay much more than most performers do. His performance of the sarabande in the 5th suite is, surprisingly, disappointing. I expected much more for this, the most beautiful movement of the six suites, and the only one that is truly monophonic. Cohen sounds too rigid here, as if he didn't feel comfortable with this slow, measured movement. In his hands it becomes plodding. However, the sarabande in the 2nd suite, similar in form to that of the 5th suite (and the only other minor sarabande in the set), is near-perfect - if only he had played the 5th suite sarabande at the same tempo, it, too, would have been ideal.
His playing of the more lively movements, such as the minuets and courantes, is energetic, yet often unhurried. With, again, relatively slow tempi, he manages to express a great deal of buoyancy. Yet the bourrees in the 3rd suite sound just a little bit too slow, as if they were searching for the right feeling. The gavottes in the 5th suite are quite nice, as Cohen has excellent balance between the high notes and low notes, providing the right feel for this dance movement. The boisterous courante in the 2nd suite is brilliantly performed; Cohen has energy to spare here, and doesn't hesitate to show it. The courante of the 4th suite is another fine movement; again, this is one that calls for a great deal of verve, and Cohen meets the call perfectly.
His phrasing sounds totally natural in most movements. The courante of the 3rd suite is especially nice, with its runs of short notes interspersed with more flexible, melodic runs, as is the final gigue of the same suite. The second gavotte of the 5th suite is a fine example of his excellent phrasing, as he negotiates the beautiful melodic passages of this movement with grace and agility. The prelude to the 2nd suite is another movement where Cohen's phrasing stands out - in this lyrical movement, he perfectly captures the felling of the music, making one almost forget the instrument and hear only the melody itself.
Cohen has a fine use of vibrato - unlike some cellists whose vibrato sounds like it is a case of St. Vitus' dance, Cohen uses it sparingly, and with great discernment, adding it as an ornament rather than using it on every possible note. His instrument has a nice sound, although it sounds a bit rough in the 6th suite. Also, it is recorded a bit too close, erasing much of its depth.
All in all, this is a fine recording of some of the greatest music Bach ever wrote. While I still have to admit a preference for Anner Bylsma first recording of the suites and Peter Wispelway's second recording, this one is up there with the best.
An excellent, very personal recording of some of Bach's greatest instrumental music. Definitely one of the best versions of these pieces.
Note: this set is available at a super-budget price in the UK. It does not seem to be available in the USA.
Buy from Amazon.uk:
Feedback to the above Review
William D. Kasimer wrote (June 28, 2001):
< Kirk McElhearn writes: Note: this set is available at a super-budget price in the UK. It does not seem to be available in the USA. Buy from Amazon.uk: >
Or from Berkshire (http://www.broinc.com/), where it appears to be available in three different guises (the Regis costs all of $3.98!).
While you're there, the Kuijken SJP is also at BRO, although it's not as cheap...
Andrew White wrote (June 28, 2001):
[To Kirk McElhearn] This recording is available in the USA at Berkshire Record Outlet <www.broinc.com>, a web-site which specializes in cut-out recordings.
I just recently bought the Cohen recording from this site -- and only for $4.00! They also have The Sixteen, Christophers recording of the Mass in B Minor for $4.00 (also released at super-budget price by Regis).
John Thomas wrote (June 28, 2001):
[To Andrew White] Those interested in a Brilliant Classics bargain box that includes the Cohen cello suites and a large number of Bach chamber items might want to take a look at
Kirk McElhearn wrote (June 29, 2001):
[To William D. Kasimer] The first two would be the separate CDs from Collins Classics, which has gone out of business. I can't understand how they could sell it that low, though. I think that for $4 bucks you can't go wrong!
Donald Satz wrote (June 29, 2001):
[To William D. Kasimer] Every time I go into the Berkshire web site I get frustrated. The screens and search engine are poor compared to most others. Do I hear "upgrade"?
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (June 29, 2001):
[To Donald Satz] (1) I generally am very satisfied with it to the great detriment of my rent money. (2) When there has been a problem, Joe wrote me "Tough" more or less. It works and we get the music.
John Thomas wrote (June 29, 2001):
[To Donald Satz] Not from me. This is one of the easiest online sites to navigate I've encountered. Enter as many search terms as you like. Don't forget to select "All the Words", check "CD", and extend the number of results per page to 50. If you get 277 search results, change the final digits of the URL on the first page from 50 to 277 and hit "Enter". All your results will then be on one page. If you know the label of the work you're looking for, use the Advanced Search. Happy hunting!
Donald Satz wrote (June 29, 2001):
[To John Thomas] All the words? I made sure to do just that. So, I put in Bach and get everything back including Bartok. I change it toJ.S. Bach and get the very same response. They have a category named "new titles" or something like that. I click on it and just see a bunch of record labels which you can't even click on. High-Tech it isn't. I realize that the more familiar I became with the screens, the easier it would get, but I find the site not to be user friendly.
Kirk McElhearn wrote (June 29, 2001):
< Andrew White wrote: I just recently bought the Cohen recording from this site -- and only for $4.00! They also have The Sixteen, Christophers recording of the Mass in B Minor for $4.00 (also released at super-budget price by Regis). >
I'll be reviewing that one soon, as well as the SMP on Regis by the King's College Choir et al. Regis also has a nice 2 CD set of Bach organ pieces by Koopman.
Suites for Cello Solo BWV 1007-1012: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Cello Suites – Phoebe Carrai | Cello Suites – Robert Cohen | Cello Suites – John Friesen | Cello Suites – Pascal Monteilhet | MD – Cello Suite No. 1