Heady, pacey cello suites

Bach Cello Suites 1- 3, Aldeburgh Festival, Snape Maltings, June 24 The Bach Cello Suites - and especially the first - are such familiar parts of the baroque repertoire that it is all too easy to treat them like musical comfort blankets.

Bach Cello Suites 1- 3, Aldeburgh Festival, Snape Maltings, June 24

The Bach Cello Suites - and especially the first - are such familiar parts of the baroque repertoire that it is all too easy to treat them like musical comfort blankets. Unless the mind and heart are sufficiently disciplined, the rich chords and pleasing voices produced from the instrument snuggle up to the listener, lulling him into a dreamy and thoughtless reverie.

Not so with Peter Wisplewey. Listening to the Dutch cellist's interpretation of the first three suites (Aldeburgh Music thoughtfully divided the evening into two equal halves for those of us with young families to bail out at a reasonable hour) was both a most startling and wonderfully unsettling experience.

This might have been due to the rawer and more exposed sounds produced by his period-inspired cello that make impossible any later 'romantic' softening. It might also be down to the artisan effort (this is not a criticism) and physicality (lots of heavy exhalations and the occasional grunt) of his playing style.


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But the result was that for the first time in a long while I was really made to look at the architecture of the piece. Like a church stripped of its gilt and statuary, I could properly view what beautifully constructed pieces these are.

The preludes aside, each of the movements draws its inspiration from dance themes, albeit made into something a little more refined and courtly than their original peasant inspirations. With Wisplewey's performance, I got a much better sense of this relationship between the original inspiration and Bach's subsequent articulation. From the arpeggiated prelude in the first suite to the crashing chords in the third, this was heady and pacey stuff.

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The occasional mis-bowing aside, Wisplewey did us a great favour by producing such an awake and alive performance. Not even the repeated interruptions by one particular idiot's mobile phone could take our gaze away from the beauty of the Bachian musical architecture.

Paul Simon

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