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Unaccompanied Bach cd

Unaccompanied Bach CD

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I’ve just completed an unaccompanied Bach  cd of the first and third cello suites which will be released in July. These two suites are both positive and sunny in mood and have been a joy to work on. I think this music is wonderfully relaxing to listen to and has a great sense of overall balance and calm. I’m not sure quite how Bach achieved this. I’ve just read a book with extracts from his letters and it’s clear that his life was just as busy and stressful as most of ours are today.
Unaccompanied Bach cd


What did Bach write about?
Most of Bach’s letters are  formal, necessity communications rather than outpourings from his heart. He obviously expressed his feelings through music rather than words. You do get a sense of practicality and a down to earth approach to life though. Although well respected by his contemporaries, Bach was nowhere near as famous in his lifetime as he is now and only a fraction of his music was published.


Wadenhoe ChurchThe cd was recorded at Wadenhoe Church in Northamptonshire ( above) which is beautifully tranquil, has wonderful views of the Northamptonshire countryside and a resonant acoustic.

Bach CD

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Next Monday I’m recording a Bach cd of his third  cello suite at Wadenhoe Church. The music is so happy in spirit that however fed up you may be feeling it usually has an uplifting effect. It’s in the uncomplicated key of  C major and has a certain virility and confidence  that makes it a joy to play, despite its technical challenges. You can link to our cd page here:
Bach cd
Baroque Music
I’m not an early music specialist but I’ve been reading musicologist Robert Donington’s book A Performer’s Guide to Baroque Music  which has some interesting things to say:

When  a virtuoso cellist conveys a sense of undue strain in Bach’s unaccompanied  suites by too massive a sonority and too heavy an articulation, this is not from any unsuitablity in his noble  instrument; it is because  he is applying a mental concept which, powerful and impressive though it may be, does not really lie within the baroque boundaries of style and is not really matched to the implications of the music.”

” The baroque performer was meant to set his stamp on the music. Reverence for the written text can be a virtue, but was no part of the baroque attitude. A text left deliberately incomplete was not meant to be exactly established but imaginatively realised. Options left open by the composer cannot be tied down to any exact intention: the intention was that they should remain the performer’s options.
Fab Mr Donington
Quoting  sentences out of context is a bit like the dodgy practice of manipulating phrases from the bible to make your point.  But one interesting aspect of the book is that Mr Donington believes that baroque performers were trained in a completely different way from modern performers and that improvisation in concerts and creatively altering music you were going to play was the norm. This must have given players a wonderful sense of freedom which would be hard to regain today. Perhaps the main point though is just to enjoy it. You can buy the book by clicking here:

Unaccompanied Bach cd

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This Wednesday I’m going to be recording an unaccompanied Bach cd of cello suite no 1 at Wadenhoe Church. I’ve spent a lot of time listening to other cellists’ recordings, most of which are excellent,  and also recordings of unaccompanied Bach by violinists. With so many superb interpretations around why bother to record it yourself, you may ask? A good question, especially as I usually find solo playing quite stressful.
Bach cd
Why record an unaccompanied Bach cd?
I suppose the main reason is that I love the music, and live performance is so ephemeral and subjective that I would like to have a something permanent which will always remind me of how I play. Performing unaccompanied is revealing and technically demanding, but this suite is very happy in mood.

What was Bach’s life like when he wrote this?
The suite is in G major, one of the most relaxed and calm keys, and was written at a time when  Bach was in his mid thirties, healthy, well respected and had a secure job at the court in Cothen. Some of Bach’s greatest music, including the six Brandenburg Concertos, was written at this time and I think this unaccompanied suite reflects Bach’s confident state of mind. Above all, it expresses that wonderful sense of balance that is so characteristic of Bach’s music and shows a great love of life.

About key colours
About forty years after Bach’s death a scholar called Christian Shubart’s  wrote a book on key characteristics and described  G major  like this: ” Everything rustic, idyllic and lyrical, every calm and satisfied passion, every tender gratitude for true friendship and faithful love – in a word every gentle and peaceful emotion of the heart is correctly expressed in this key.” What wonderful words. If I can manage to achieve just a little of that in my playing of the first cello suite, I’ll be pleased.