Bach Cello Suites – Jean-Guihen Queyras

0 of 5 stars

Suite No.1 in G, BWV1007
Suite No.2 in D minor, BWV1008
Suite No.3 in C, BWV1009
Suite No.4 in E flat, BWV1010
Suite No.5 in C minor, BWV1011
Suite No.6 in D, BWV1012

Jean-Guihen Queyras (cello)

Recorded March 2007 in Église Saint-Cyriak, Sulzburg (sic)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: April 2008
HMC 901970.71
(2 CDs + DVD)
Duration: 2 hours 10 minutes (CDs)



As new recordings of the six Bach cello suites continue unabated, Jean-Guihen Queyras comes to this milestone at a comparatively early stage of his career. This is in direct contrast to Steven Isserlis, who, feeling the weight of expectation, waited many years to set his view down.

It will be interesting to see if Queyras revisits Bach, but as an early marker these are recordings notable for their lucidity, warmth and depth of expression.

Where Isserlis is relatively straight in his interpretation, Queyras allows himself expressive leeway – but always within the spirit of Bach’s compositional process. His tasteful extemporisation is first noted in the G major Suite’s ‘Sarabande’, then in the big quadruple-stopped chords with which the Second Suite’s ‘Prelude’ closes. Both instances make perfect sense, yet do remove an element of pure stillness from the music, and in the case of the latter add far more warmth than Isserlis.

Elsewhere this approach can lend the music a uniquely vocal quality, and the ‘Allemande’ of the Sixth Suite feels more like a recitative as a result. Queyras exercises sensitive rubato throughout this dance form, and while the ‘Allemandes’ tend to be slower there are flashes of dazzling virtuosity in the ‘Courantes’, the Second Suite in particular a flashy example. As long as this is heard in conjunction with the thoughtful ‘Sarabande’ that follows, it makes for a valid approach.

In the three-part dance-movements there is also plenty of expressive rein for the cellist, and in the Fourth Suite he makes the most of Bach’s echo-effects in a lively ‘Bourrée’. In the ‘Gavottes’ of the Sixth Suite, however, there is a serenity that passes not just through these dances but through the whole work, with a vivid dynamic range applied, to the ‘Prelude’ especially.

Here, as throughout the cycle, Queyras’s technique is immaculate, yet never too measured. Indeed, these interpretations are characterised by a warm, sonorous cello sound, particularly when in the mid to low register. Queyras is sparing in his use of vibrato, meaning that these performances, played on a 1696 Gioffredo Cappa cello with modern strings and bow, tend towards the practice of the period. A reverberant recorded sound complements the warmth of Queyras’s approach, the church acoustic only occasionally blurring the rhythmic vitality in the more detached dance movements.

The rich mid-register sound benefits the Fifth Suite, where much of Bach’s writing lies, and the ‘Sarabande’ is particularly moving in its reliance on the third note, the ‘leading’ note of each four-note phrase. The Prelude meanwhile has an expansive tone.

The two discs are complemented by a DVD including a candid interview with the cellist and a complete performance of the Third Suite. This encapsulates Queyras’s overall approach: not afraid to add bold ornamentation where Bach’s writing allows but respectful of even the big four-note chords with which the ‘Prelude’ ends, staying within himself and not fully sustaining the sound.

His whole approach is refreshingly inventive, and keeps the flexibility that lies at the core of these works, where in the right hands interpretations will continue to vary and develop. It will be interesting to see, if and when he returns to the Bach Suites, whether his approach alters in any way.

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