Bach Cello Suites - Favorite Cellist?

May 6, 2005 at 06:42 AM · We have pretty much done the violin partitas and sonatas to death, so here's another Bach discussion: who are your favorite cellists in the Bach cello suites?

Personally it's pretty hard beat Yo-Yo Ma, especially in the G maj prelude.

Replies (10)

May 6, 2005 at 12:57 PM · I would have to go with Casals.

May 6, 2005 at 02:48 PM · My favorite set, of the ones I've heard, is Starker's RCA from the 1990s. There are at least two other sets recorded by him in the 1950s and 1960s that I'd love to hear as well. Starker is without doubt one of the great musicians of the 20th century.

May 6, 2005 at 04:47 PM · The most impressive and soothing recording I've ever heard of the Suites are with Maurice Gendron.

Why? It sounds like Bach.

May 6, 2005 at 04:57 PM · From Terry King

>Posted via on May 6, 2005 at 7:48 AM (MST)

My favorite set, of the ones I've heard, is Starker's RCA from the 1990s. There are at least two other sets recorded by him in the 1950s and 1960s that I'd love to hear as well. Starker is without doubt one of the great musicians of the 20th century.<

Yup, I have the 1950s recording. It is stupdendous, in my view.

-Scott H.

May 7, 2005 at 12:09 AM · I need to get that Starker, I have Rostropovich and Casals. Between those, I prefer Casals. Less ponderous.

May 7, 2005 at 02:26 AM · I could try to make a dub for you, but IIRC, it's pretty scratchy these days.

May 7, 2005 at 05:21 AM · I love both the Casals and the Ma recordings. I've been told that Ma has rerecorded them and that his second recording is better than his first. I'm going to hear him play some of the Bach Suites next season. The ticket was expensive but I couldn't resist.

May 9, 2005 at 03:19 AM · Laurie,

I strongly recommend the 60's Starker recordings, recently reissued on hybrid SACD on Mercury 470644 last year. As it is hybrid, it will play on all CD players. For American readers, the Mercury/Universal SACDs were issued at premium price in North America, but midprice in Europe and Australasia. I bought mine at at just over half the US price.

Starker recorded the Bach 4.5 times. The Nixa/Saga 50s set were never finished as the company went belly up. He recorded them 1958 to 1961 for Columbia/EMI, 1963-1965 for Mercury, then for a Canadian company, and finally in 1996 for RCA. I only heard the RCA set once, thought the playing more urbane and leisurely than the Mercury, with some overfussy articulation occasionally. What your readers ought to know is that the direct stream digital remastering of the 60's analogue tapes is overwhelmingly superior to the pulse code modulation 16 bit/44.1 kHz digital recording of the Rostropovich and the digital Starker, or even the later Yo YoMa, which is the nicest of these digital recordings. Some time ago, I played snippets of the Rostropovich, Ma 2 and the 60s Starker to a violinist who doesn't have a clue about digital recording, and on my system, he agreed the 40 year old Starker tapes on SACD had better cello sound than the digital versions, despite the tape hiss, even though my SACD( actually a Marantz universal) player was much cheaper than my CD one. I make similar comments on my review of Julia Fischer's recent solo Bach set which I referred you to, on the superiority of DSD to record acoustic string instruments. En passant, note the weird hissing interference EMI didn't bother to correct at the start of Rostropovich's prelude to the C minor suite. For readers who don't have an SACD player, the CD tracks of the Starker still sound enormously good, definitely better than the Rostropovich in preserving high frequency content. This set is also available on audiophile LP in outlets such as Music Direct, but it's very expensive.

Aesthetically, I find much to admire equally in Starker, Casals and Rostropovich. The latter has the most stately sarabandes, though where grandeur slides into grandiosity, each will have their own opinion; Starker never confuses these two sentiments.

May 9, 2005 at 05:59 AM · Wow, thanks Ramesh. So would AmazonUK be a good place to get that?

May 11, 2005 at 01:55 AM · Hi, Laurie

I'm sure Amazon uk would be a good alternative. Of course, you'd need to do a price check locally and factor in transatlantic postage.

The Starker SACDs also include two of the three Bach sonatas with keyboard obbligato. Magnificent playing, and he doesn't excessively distend phrases like Maisky does with Argerich. Some purists might consider the pianist's ornamentation a tad anachronistic.

Looking at my initial post, I should have added the sound of the cello with Starker on Mercury may initially seem dull, especially on more modest hi-fi setups. Actually, the sound is very faithful to what one would hear in the front stalls, because the engineers recorded far away enough to pick up the sound radiating from the body of the cello as opposed to that directly from the strings, in a proportion which is more consistent with what an audience would hear. Lots of digital recordings from the eighties in particular seem to have picked up too much direct string sound, at the expense of the mellower harmonics from the vibration of a wooden body, making the textures harsher. Even the Rostropovich recordings, factoring out his big-boned tone production, seem overcooked, making this set for me, rather relentless and wearying on prolonged listening, despite his artistry. This sort of excessively present sound will appear, on casual listening, more impressive on smaller hi-fi systems, compared to the Starker.

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