Composers: Bach
Compositions: Six Solo Cello Suites
Performers: Alban Gerhardt vc
Catalogue Number: Hyperion CDA682612 (2CD)

The German cellist Alban Gerhardt’s contribution to the liner notes of his Bach Cello Suites rather humbly mentions his disillusionment with excessive regard for “authenticity” in this type of music – making it all the more apparent that freedom and spontaneity here are the twin touchstones of his approach to what I’ve always found somewhat intimidatingly cerebral repertoire. I’m reminded of what Schnabel wrote about Beethoven’s piano sonatas: that they would always be greater than anyone who plays them.

No sign of claustrophobic affectation or an interpretative or intellectual straitjacket here: Gerhardt eases into the First Suite with a charming, almost tentative – certainly tender – regard, and gradually seems to proceed in a slow release of energy. He imbues the more active movements, the Gigues, Courantes, Menuets and Gavottes with a “sublimation of the dance,” while investing them with an elegant insouciance. In the Courante and the Gigue of the First Suite, he skips humorously from one note to the next and this spirit culminates in the pair of Gavottes of the mighty Sixth Suite (which Rostropovich described as Bach’s “symphony for solo cello”), which are the jolliest movements in the entire set. The contrast between these and the dreamier slow movements is shown to great effect.

His approach to repeats also plays to his interpretative strengths, with each radiating yet another insight as if gleaned miraculously in the previous seconds. My favourite slow movements are the Sarabandes: the nobility of the First Suite’s, the way the octave leap at the end of the Second Suite’s becomes a two octave descent and the ambience of the Third’s, described as having the gentleness of a compassionate giant, and, for me, probably the shortest Sarabande of the lot, the dream-like jewel in the Fifth. A set to live with.

Sign up to the Limelight newsletter