Bach’s six suites for solo cello are cornerstones of the repertoire, and since Casals, they’ve been championed by a host of the world’s greatest virtuoso cellists. The intimacy of the suites, their arcs and lines, and general architecture, are familiar to a great many listeners. There are countless recordings, ranging in interpretation of phrasing, bowing, and tempo, and each connoisseur will have their favourite. But none will have experienced a reinterpretation quite like Umberto Clerici’s.
In Suite Cubed, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra principal cellist adopts the general blueprint of the original suites, forming two new suites pieced together from various solo works from the 17th through to the 20th centuries. Bach’s music is treated as a kind of platform for exploring the experience of a solo cello suite: its pacing, progression of tempi and mood, dance character, and dramatic flow.
From this familiar territory, Clerici charts a new course, weaving lines into unexpected places in this fascinating approach to musical curation, a kind of contemporary meditation on one of the Baroque’s most popular genres.
Clerici’s playing is soulful, robust, and beautifully sculpted. In the first Suite Cubed, in D, he springs from Bach’s resonant and buoyant D Major Prelude backwards to an earlier work by Giovanni Battista degli Antonii, then forwards to the Ninth Caprice of Alfredo Piatti, forming the Courante of this suite. This brilliantly shaped reading then melts into a voluptuous performance of Bach’s D Minor Sarabande, which then transitions to Giovanni Sollima’s Alone (1999): the most seamless progression on the disc, made all the more delightful for the energetic rock music contrast in the latter work’s second half. Gaspar Cassadó’s Intermezza e Danza Finale brings a unique Spanish flavour to the suite, with the final Jota forming the perfect substitute for a Gigue.
The prevailing light character of Clerici’s first suite is balanced by a darker, more brooding one in the second Suite Cubed, this time based around the tonality of C. Luigi Dallapiccola’s grungy Ciaccona, which sets the mood perfectly, balanced by two Allemandes: Bach’s, from the Third Suite, and its haunting and restless partner, the second movement from Hindemith’s Cello Sonata. Ligeti’s Capriccio from his Cello Sonata is a real highlight on the disc, both for its vivacity and Clerici’s rhapsodic and extroverted interpretation. The slow movement from Hindemith’s Sonata forms the perfect Sarabande, preceding Bach’s Bourées from the Third Suite, and finishing with the bristling Toccata from George Crumb’s Sonata for Solo Cello.