October 18, 2010
Part I: Suite No 1 in G; No 4 in E flatMusic At Oxford chose a lovely venue to stage Bach’s six suites for cello. St. Barnabas church, tucked away in the back streets of Jericho, is a feast for the eyes just as Bach’s cello suites are a feast for the ears. The programme gives a detailed description of this beautiful and unusual church which was hosting a MAO concert for the second time.
Bach’s cello suites are a must for every aspiring cellist; apparently we are lucky to have them as so much of Bach’s music disappeared when he died. Happily these suites were preserved and form a part of most cellists’ repertoire. The suites follow a pattern – Prelude, Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, then either Menuet, Gavotte or Bourée before finishing with a Gigue. These are all dances and the different rhythms dance across the strings of the cello, although it is hard to believe that the sarabande was once considered so erotic that it was banned.
Suite no. 1 is like an introduction to all the others, the music flowing smoothly from one dance to another. Suite no. 4, technically the most difficult of all the suites, portrays much more contrast between the different dances and a much wider emotional range.
Playing these suites is for a cellist what playing Hamlet is to a male actor: sometime in his career it has to be done and the delivery of “To be or not to be” will be compared to many others who have said those famous words. Raphael Wallfisch has nothing to fear. His apparently effortless performance of these cello suites on his 250-year-old cello was as astonishing as it was delightful. We are lucky to have Music at Oxford bringing such great players to perform here.