I grew up listening to old vinyl recordings of Casals playing all six of Bach's Cello Suites. To this day, I seem to recognize every note and every nuance of Casals' performances.
As with many pieces of music I love, this one has some rich personal memories. While I was battling my way through my divorce, I dated a fellow who was an outstanding amateur cellist. In fact, I decided that I wanted to date him largely because I liked the way he played Bach on his cello. He owned the Casals recordings on a 2 CD set, and I remember thinking that owning those CDs must be the ultimate luxury. (My divorce lawyer was taking a large chunk of my salary at that time.) I remember sitting with my friend in a sun filled breakfast nook in his home, eating, drinking coffee, listening to Casals' recordings, and not talking because we didn't need to. I remember just once watching him shake his head and mutter, "...his phrasing." He was right, of course. I remembered my childhood violin teacher playing so many pieces with a phrasing similar to that of Casals playing Bach. Casals influenced a couple of generations of string players in their overall phrasing.
When my divorce was finished and I had some expendable income, I bought the Casals CDs and later the CDs of Yo Yo Ma playing the same pieces. The Casals recordings are the ones I've listened to the most since then. I know that it's good to listen to different performances of a piece so that you don't get stuck in a rut, but, after all, these are Bach and this is Casals.
Lately I've been listening to my CDs over and over, sometimes with the score in the Suzuki book in front of me, scribbling down notes while I listen. It's challenging and fun to try to figure out the cellists' bowings by listening to them and not watching them play. Other things are easier to discern by ear. For example, Ma plays the piece more quickly and playfully than Casals. Ma also likes to add ornaments every time he repeats a passage. He strongly favors double stops and chords. Casals does something very interesting in the passage with a run of eighth notes in which every other note is an open string below the fingered notes. This pattern is very common in fiddle tunes. It's so much fun to play as a finger game that it's enjoyable even if you don't listen to how it sounds. I kept listening and relistening to Casals play this passage and always had the feeling that he was playing drones instead of just alternating strings. Suddenly I recognized what he was doing because I've heard it so often in fiddle tunes of different ethnicities. Casals played the fingered notes with the open string beneath them, and he played the open string with the next lower open string as a drone. Both Casals and Ma showed me the sense of some of the dynamics which seemed counterintuitive to me. There are places where a brief decrescendo is followed immediately by a forte. In Gavotte #2, there are several places where a grace note and double stop are played up bow, fp. The next note is played down bow and piano, and that is followed by five staccato quarter notes, all played upbow. The markings on the score did not make much sense to me, but the recordings showed me just how the music should sound and how small deviations from the expected can be quite beautiful.
In the framework of those two pages in Suzuki, I've played around with all of the things I've described here. They're all fun to play and to hear myself play. I consider myself lucky that I can have so much fun with such small bits of music.
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