Notes and Editorial Reviews
This playing of Bach's unaccompanied cello suites is impressive - Cohen has imagination and a good sense of style as well as secure intonation and satisfying tone.
The young British cellist, Robert Cohen, plays a modern instrument—actually it dates from 1692 but is strung and otherwise modified to presentday requirements—and draws a warm, resonant sound from it. His approach to these great works follows the tradition established by Casals and maintained in various ways and in varying degrees by generations of cellists since. Cohen's performances have many virtues, among the greatest of them to my mind being a complete absence of empty virtuosity and intrusive showmanship. This is serious playing which makes a real
attempt to reach the heart of the music without the aid of artifice, flamboyance or an excess of personal mannerism. His choice of tempo is invariably unhurried and he is not afraid to take more time over a piece, even than Casals if he feels that it is justified. Cohen has a nice feeling for phrases which he articulates and punctuates effectively. In short, he gives the music shape and character with a very well-controlled bowing arm and an intuitive sense of where best to place emphasis.
The Courante of the Suite No. 3 in C major is a good example of how engagingly he presents the music when all these fine qualities in his playing come together. Sarabandes, without exception, are executed with sustained gracefulness and are taken at a slower tempo than almost any other version I know. That in itself might imply a degree of ennui, but in fact quite the reverse is the case. Cohen's technique enables him to play these deeply expressive movements with admirable control; phrases and sustained notes sing out eloquently, often sounding an unusually deep note of pathos. That quality extends furthermore to some of the little `galanteries' such as the Bourree II of the Suite in C major. Allemandes and Courantes come over with a pleasing feeling for gesture, and are both clearly and effectively punctuated. Cohen's playing of the Gigues which conclude each Suite is motivated in a lively way, though here I sometimes felt they were just a little too weighty and a little too emphatic; that of the D minor is too aggressive for me, and the playing is less tidy here than elsewhere.
What of the Preludes, which reveal so much of a player's imagination and sense of fantasy? Cohen takes a leisurely and expansive view of these, imbuing them with rhythmic suppleness and a poetic sense of improvisatory freedom; the D minor Prelude from Suite No. 2 is magnificently done with a brooding intensity that I have seldom before heard. I should have liked him to linger just a fraction longer on the radiant high G, the climax of an upward semiquaver journey towards the end of the G major Prelude from Suite No. 1, but the journey itself is rewarding in this performance.
This playing of Bach's unaccompanied cello suites is impressive. Intonation is secure and, as I say, Cohen's tone is satisfying. Vibrato is kept under the strictest supervision and all repeats are observed. Such virtues on their own do not make fine performances, but Cohen in addition has imagination, and a good sense of style. With performances such as those of Casals (EMI), Fournier (DG), Tortelier (EMI) and Bylsma (RCA) in the catalogue the new set meets with formidable competition, yet few of their adherents could fail to be impressed by playing of this order. Fine recorded sound.
-- Gramophone [5/1990, reviewing the original release of these performances, Collins 1081]
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