Notes and Editorial Reviews
Cello Suites No. 1–6
Gavriel Lipkind (vc)
LIPKIND PRODUCTIONS 0016132 (3 SACDs: 156:21)
From a performer’s viewpoint, Johann Sebastian Bach’s suites for solo cello, like many of his great works for keyboards, voices, and instruments, can seem as if they were written more for the cello itself than for the cellist, or, as Gavriel Lipkind writes in his extensive and very personal liner notes to his first recording of the suites, for “an ideal (cosmic) performer, ignoring to a great extent the known skills
of cello playing in his days.” These are pieces with which a performer can have a lifelong relationship, continually finding new wonders between those notes as he or she grows as a musician and a human being. In 2002, Israeli-born cellist Gavriel Lipkind began a three-year retreat from an already successful performing career to hone his personal musicianship through the study of the six suites. This recording is the result. As he claims, it is very much “a personal reassessment” of the music, and a well-crafted exemplar of a young, gifted, and very thoughtful musician’s wrestling with one of the best-known and most often recorded pillars of the Western musical repertoire. The cello suites do not survive in autograph; there are four hand-copied sources from Bach’s time and numerous 19th-century editions, all which differ in details of notes, articulation, and phrasing. Lipkind uses the lack of an
as a rationale to justify his own personal yet convincing interpretation, a new and very individual addition to a field already crowded with great recordings, whether your taste leans toward the heavily Romantic style of Rostropovich, Casals, or Ma, or the more spry, rhetoric-driven, and historically informed recordings of Bylsma, Suzuki, or Wispelwey.
The first thing this listener noticed was the extraordinary color of Lipkind’s instrument, a 17th-century Italian cello at modern pitch with a modern setup and bow. Its full, rich tone is almost contrabass-like in the lowest register and sings like a viola da gamba at the top, all being complemented by Lipkind’s restraint when it comes to adding vibrato, especially on weak notes. Without the almost constant vibrato, a world of nuance opens up to the performer, one Lipkind is not afraid to explore. His grace notes, especially in the French overture-style prelude to the Fifth Suite, are heart-melting, and his style of chord playing—add the color of the instrument and think of gambist Jordi Savall playing Marais—is a refreshing change from the brusque two-tone “ka-whomp” of many modern players. This prelude and the sarabandes from Suites 1 and 2 are gems. Lipkind is not afraid to really play slowly, to take time to clear the air between gestures, and to let unaccented beats fade into the background. He is expressive without being excessive, a welcome treat. Only in the more moderate-tempo movements, the preludes and allemandes mostly, does the larger gesture tend to get obscured at times through the use of too much bow on the small notes. Only at these moments is Lipkind’s interpretation less than riveting.
movements—bourrées, gavottes, and menuets—are crisp, fun, and yet elegant at all times. His gigues dance without rushing and the interplay between multiple voices—the “single-voice polyphony” that Lipkind singles out as crucial to the interpretation of these works—is crystal-clear at all times. He is not afraid to improvise and embellish within Bach’s music, as even some of the High Priests of the contemporary early-music movement are loathe to do. In this reviewer’s opinion, he could have added much more and been a little bit bolder and more expressive with added cadential trills, especially in the first two suites. Some of his more Italianate added runs and gestures come across as more Kreisler than Bach.
Christoph Claßen’s sound engineering creates quite a close soundstage, a front-pew-in-a-large-church feel that is up close and direct yet blends enough room into the mix to gently enhance the polyphonic character of the music. The very detailed liner notes outline Lipkind’s journey with the music, touching on the theology, mathematics, and performance practice that inspired his interpretation. Interestingly, the CDs themselves are packaged in unmarked simple paper sleeves. As in the case of Yo-Yo Ma, who made an early Bach suites recording and revisited them later in his career, I am looking forward to experiencing Gavriel Lipkind’s unfolding relationship with these works. In the meantime, this first recording is a rewarding and enjoyable window into a brilliant young musician.
FANFARE: Henry Lebedinsky
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