Notes and Editorial Reviews
Wen-Sinn Yang (vc)
ARTHAUS 101 419 (2 DVDs: 175:00)
The Suites on 2 CDs
There is no shortage of recordings of Bach’s cello suites. One can have them on guitar, lute, harp, viola, viola da gamba, and even on the cello. They are sturdy pieces that can withstand interpretations ranging from heart-on-sleeve romantic swoop to
aggressive authentic-instrumental assault. Somewhere, Bach is laughing.
My initiation into this repertoire was hearing Janos Starker play them, after which I mortgaged many student meals to buy his then-current recording (still available on Mercury). I have heard many performances since, and have never tired of hearing what others make of these works, even as Starker remained my benchmark. True, some said his approach was too cool, but I always thought exact intonation and rhythm was an asset, and he still had a bit of Casals’s line in his phrasing.
The Swiss Wen-Sinn Yang has heard a lot of Bach. He studied with Claude Starck and Wolfgang Boettcher and has had master classes with Starker and David Geringas. He has a considerable discography with a considerable amount of modern music. I cannot say what brought him to this set, but I am glad he arrived.
Though they were probably not so written, Yang sees these suites as one cycle of two subsets, Suites 1–3 and 4–6. This makes some structural sense and, in any event, the introductions he gave to each suite made a useful filler to the television series for which these performances were recorded, but they can be skipped.
What cannot be skipped are the performances themselves. Yang is a wonderful player of Bach. He indulges in no gritting of teeth, no deep oratorical breathing, no writhing to telegraph his personal satisfaction, but through the concentration one can sense his pleasure in playing. And the playing is a pleasure. I was surprised to find it slower than Starker’s, by a good bit in the second suite, for instance, because I had no sense of dragging. Yang’s intonation is exact and his phrasing clear. He uses a cello built in 1720 but plays with a modern bow. He does not change to a
for the sixth suite, but his introduction shows how players use a technique developed after Bach’s time to get to those higher notes. In short, I like these performances and recommend them highly.
As near as I can determine, the only DVD competition for this set comes from Mischa Maisky, whose 1985 recording has just been issued in DVD on DG. I agree with Laura Rónai in her review of the Maisky set in 31:2 that visual presentation of a concert may get in the way of listening, and I prefer, in general, just to listen. For those who prefer to do this for the present recording, Arthaus has added two CDs with just the music. As a technical note, I reviewed the version with regional code 0, on four discs. I notice from the arkivmusic.com site that there is apparently a North American edition, regional code 1, which comes on three discs, though the information below the header says four.
FANFARE: Alan Swanson
Sound Format: PCM Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
Picture Format: 16:9 widescreen
Menu Languages: English
Subtitle Languages of Introduction: English, French, Spanish
Region Code: 0 worldwide
Running Time: 175 min
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