Gramophone (United Kingdom) 1/2005

Solo Bach modern and 'ancient' - and it's Baroque Bach that catches the ear

When it comes to the cello, the difference between the sound of a Baroque model and a modern one is not always as marked as it is with other instruments, especially when the music coming out of it is Bach's Cello Suites. Their unique nature, together with the highly personal response they tend to provoke, confounds the interpretative preconceptions we lazily bring to them, forcing us to open our ears, concentrate hard, and make real value judgements.

Even so, I do not think that in a blind sampling many experienced listeners would find it difficult to guess which of these recordings uses the modern cello and which the Baroque: Marc Coppey unmistakably plays the former, producing a burly sound in the rather unyielding surroundings of IRCAM’s Paris studios, while Sergei Istomin's lean and flexible tone, recorded in the more forgiving acoustic of an Ontario church, is clearly that of the latter. Both performances are technically accomplished and well thought-out. I would not dare to say that one is better, but they are very different.

Coppey was a prizewinner at the 1988 International Bach Competition, and the wait to put the suites down on disc has been rewarded with technical and mental assurance: his intonation is accurate, his tone cultured (despite the unhelpful acoustic), and his double-stops are punched out with a minimum of fuss. His concern is with longer lines and the larger-scale shaping of a movement, which he does unobtrusively and effectively. He is less sensitive, however, to local detail, betraying surprisingly little sense of the relative important of notes within a phrase, and as a result his playing can sound dogged, a bit uniform and wearing.

Istomin, in contrast, attends precisely to the smaller details that Coppey ignores, showing more rhythmic and tonal variety, making the music really dance – try the Gavottes of Suite No 6 to see what I mean - and adopting a more rhetorical approach. Phrases are often marked out with a generously free rubato which, while it can endanger forward momentum, also gives the music a refreshingly improvisatory feel. His intonation is not always as accurate as Coppey's, but this is Bach playing of elegance and delicacy - I love the way his double-stops can be like wispy brush- strokes. In fact, by the time I reached the end of it, I realised that this unassuming release (recorded as far back as 1997) offers one of the most attractive and satisfying 'Baroque' recordings of these pieces yet made.

- Lindsay Kemp

 

La Scena Musicale en ligne

Après tous les enregistrement déjà existants, après de nombreuses versions historiques sur intruments modernes ou anciens... pourquoi refaire, encore une fois, les Suites pour violoncelle seul ? Il faut être un peu fou, peut-être, ne pas avoir peur de la comparaison... et avoir quelque chose à dire. Et cette musique de Bach est tellement belle, tellement riche, qu'il est facile de comprendre le désir de la jouer des interprètes. Sergei Istomin a visiblement quelque chose à dire. Violoncelliste et gambiste, il a fait partie du noyau de l'orchestre Tafelmusik et a joué avec de nombreux ensembles de musique ancienne à travers le monde. Son interprétation des Suites de Bach, sur instrument ancien, est superbe. On reconnait on grand musicien, avec des idées et la capacité de les transmettre. Les intentions sont claires, appuyées par un rythme souple et un jeu subtil de nuances. Il n'a pas un son propre, parfait, aseptisé, mais un son vivant et riche, toujours dans le mouvement. Même dans les préludes plus lents, on ne s'ennuit pas du vibrato romantique. Istomin réussit à donner de l'ampleur à ses phrasés sans artifice. Ce disque est une version remasterisée (en 24 bit.) d'un enregistrement de 1997.

Published in Vol. 9 No. 8 of La Scena Musicale
Publié dans le Vol. 9 No. 8 dans La Scena Musicale

Audiophile Audition