J.S. Bach: Cello Suites 1, 3 & 5; Domenico Gabrielli: Ricercars 1, 3 & 5

J.S. Bach: Cello Suites 1, 3 & 5; Domenico Gabrielli: Ricercars 1, 3 & 5

by Benjamin Whitcomb


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J.S. Bach: Cello Suites 1, 3 & 5; Domenico Gabrielli: Ricercars 1, 3 & 5

American cellist Benjamin Whitcomb attracts attention with seemingly contradictory statements at the beginning of his booklet notes for this recording of three of Bach's suites for unaccompanied cello. On one hand he writes of making his own critical editions of the works on the album, "including fingering, bowing, dynamics, phrasing, and tempi." Yet: "At the same time, I have endeavored to perform the works with an almost improvisational freedom that Baroque aesthetic valued and that keeps the music alive." Maybe resolving this contradiction would have been a neat trick, but it's not at all clear that Whitcomb pulls it off. He offers light, rather breezy readings of Bach's suites that don't seem particularly improvisational but do strip away some of the Romantic profundities that Pablo Casals, more than anyone else, attached to these works -- the cello suites, like those for violin, defy categorization as intellectual exercises, virtuoso showpieces, or mystical effusions. In Whitcomb's hands they tread into a fourth area -- they are almost playful. The dance rhythms of the individual movements are not particularly emphasized; doing so might have made Whitcomb's performance a bit more fun. An attraction is the inclusion at the end of three short and rarely heard ricercars for unaccompanied cello of northern Italian composer Domenico Gabrielli -- unconnected with the single-l Gabrielis of the late sixteenth century. These are not ricercars in the earlier sense of the word, denoting a polyphonic ancestor of the fugue, that persisted up to Bach's "Musical Offering, BWV 1079" -- they are light, apparently quasi-improvisational multi-sectional pieces based on dance rhythms, and they are among the earliest works for solo cello. They make a good fit with Whitcomb's Bach readings, and they're especially welcome in that while the ancestors of Bach's solo violin works have been often explored in recent years, the cello repertory still remains largely unknown to general listeners. Such listeners should compare Whitcomb's readings of the main attractions with other weightier recordings, however.

Product Details

Release Date: 10/23/2007
Label: Msr Classics
UPC: 0681585117729
catalogNumber: 1177


  1. Suite for solo cello No. 1 in G major, BWV 1007
  2. Suite for solo cello No. 3 in C major, BWV 1009
  3. Suite for solo cello No. 5 in C minor, BWV 1011
  4. Ricercar for cello solo No. 1 in G minor
  5. Ricercar for cello solo No. 3 in D major
  6. Ricercar for cello solo No. 5 in C major

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