BACH : CELLO SUITES (7-22-10)
By Lawrence Budmen
Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra near Lenox, Massachusetts, USA, is more than just a summer concert venue for one of America’s greatest ensembles. It is a music festival in the truest sense. Set amongst awesome mountain views and lush green foliage (albeit also prone to sometimes heavy thunderstorms), Tanglewood is a musical paradise and oasis. The home of the Tanglewood Music Center, an advanced academy for the most gifted music students from the world over, the Berkshire mecca combines BSO performances and special events with recitals and chamber music featuring world renowned artists and music making by the music center fellows and members of the Boston University/ Tanglewood Institute, the adjacent high school level educational program.
On July 22, 2010, the wood paneled, acoustically superb Seiji Ozawa Hall was home to a typically major Tanglewood event. Dutch cellist Peter Wispelwey played all six cello suites of J.S. Bach in a marathon concert that drew a large and enthusiastic audience. The audience was present for a true musical gathering rather than a mere concert hall event. These scores are monuments in the history of the instrument, literally reinventing cello technique as well as presenting their creator at his most inventive, wide ranging and inspired. Neglected until the early twentieth century when Pablo Casals recorded these landmark works as well as performing the individual pieces in countless concerts around the globe. Cellists as diverse as Fournier and Rostropovich have made these scores a focal point of their repertoire. In recent years Yo-Yo Ma’s performances of these works have been highly revered.
More than just a Bach marathon, Wispelwey’s performances were in a class of their own, rendering comparisons to other interpreters irrelevant. The Dutch cellist was a paragon of instrumental technique, agility and patrician musicianship. An artist of the highest order, Wispelwey found the expressive humanity beneath the glittering Baroque surface of Bach’s masterworks. From the initial phrases of Suite No.1 in G, the cellist exhibited unflagging nobility of musical line. Wispelwey’s beautiful tonal control, evenly produced sound and spot on intonation never called attention to itself, serving the artistic ends of Bach first and foremost. Wispelwey employed tasteful ornamentation (unaffected by period instrument mannerisms) and spare but warm vibrato, channeling the individual artistic character of each of the six works. He was not afraid to add trills at the conclusion of movements, treating the scores with reverence but as musical blueprints to be developed by artistic insight and imagination. Here was showmanship in the most artful manner!
The dark, passionate Allemande of the somber Suite No.2 in D minor was rendered with depth of feeling and gravity. In the concluding Gigue of the warm hearted Suite No.3 in C, Wispelwey bounced his bow on the modern strings of his 1760 Guadagnini cello, enlivening the musical pulse while creating the feeling of a salon musicale. Wispelwey’s light, airborne phrasing and stylishness in the Suite No,4 in E-flat was always inventive, seemingly improvisatory and replete with surprising curves and accents.
The somber, dramatically conceived Suite No.5 in C minor is undoubtedly the greatest of this sextet of cello masterpieces. Here Wispelwey’s dark, molten tone and gravitas produced a performance of unsurpassed beauty. For once the Sarabande was a wellspring of deep emotion, a cry from the heart. Wispelwey executed the spiraling roulades of the Suite No.6 in D with delightfully robust, unaffected verve, the concluding Gigue all sweetness and vivacity. In this memorable, one of a kind evening, Bach took center stage. The remarkable Peter Wispelwey was his fervent musical servant.
The Seiji Ozawa Hall concert series at Tanglewood continues on July 29, 2010 with a Brahms-Schumann recital by baritone Matthias Goerne and pianist Andreas Haefliger. Mezzo-soprano Bernarda Fink sings Schumann, Granados and Rodrigo on August 5, accompanied by pianist Anthony Spirl. Pianist Pierre Laurent Aimard plays scores by Bach and Elliot Carter on August 10. For information, see www.bso.org.