The last time the Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello of J.S. Bach were performed on such a scale in Los Angeles was back in 2004, when Dutch cellist Pieter Wispelwey blew our collective socks off with his marathon evening of all six Suites. Sunday's three hour-long recital, the third concert of the 10-day Festival, presented each of the Suites performed by a different cellist.
|Critic and professor Tim Page explores the history|
and meaning of the Bach Cello Suites
|Anna Magdalena Bach's manuscript|
of the Prelude from Suite No. 1
For Sunday's concert, the Suites were not performed in what is thought to be the chronological order of their composition. Instead, the First, Fourth, and Fifth Suites came in the first half and the Second, Third, and Sixth Suites after intermission. Former Los Angeles Philharmonic principal cello and current USC and Colburn School faculty member Ron Leonard began the evening with an assured and well conceived performance of the Suite No. 1 (G major). Swiss cellist Thomas Demenga, whose wild double cello concerto received its American premiere Friday night, performed Suite No. 4 (Eb major). As much as I like Demenga, I have to say I found his Bach overly idiosyncratic and rhythmically uneven in several places. His Prelude lacked any real dynamic range or contrast between the primary and secondary voices, which is crucial in that movement. His performance of the Sarabande was lovely, measured, and elegant, though Bourees 1 & 2 were taken at an excessively fast clip. Hungarian cellist Miklós Perényi , who studied with a student of David Popper and was himself a student of Pablo Casals, rounded out the first half of the program with an unbelievably, mind-blowingly thrilling performance of Suite No. 5 (C minor). The opening of the Prelude was very measured and deliberate, and the fugue which follows was very beautifully and cogently stated. The Sarabande, in its understated, unaffected plaintive simplicity, was one of the most hauntingly beautiful I have ever heard, so much so that the audience held its collective breath until it was over! Perenyi's Bach was utterly astounding and received the only ovation of the first half of the program.
|(l to r) Jian Wang, Miklos Pereny, Jean-Guihen Queyras, Frans Helmerson,|
Thomas Demenga, Ronald Leonard take a well deserved bow
The Festival runs until Sunday, 18 March and will feature several more master classes, recitals, and concertos, including three performances with the Los Angeles Philharmonic featuring Ralph Kirsbaum, Mischa Maisky, and Alisa Weilerstein. The final concert will take place the evening of the 18th at Walt Disney Concert Hall and will feature a mass cello choir of over 100 cellists in a performance of Christopher Rouse's Rapturedux. Visit the Festival website for further information.