Bach Cello Suites Schiff/EMI

Review by: Jed Distler

Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

Bach’s cello suites abound in superlative recordings, from Casals’ still potent pioneering set (Naxos) to riveting cycles from Boris Pergamenschikov (Hänssler) and Torleif Thedéen (BIS) released on the cusp of the millennium. In between are classic versions by Pierre Fournier (DG), Paul Tortelier (EMI), Mstislav Rostropovich (EMI), Andre Navarra (Calliope), Anner Bylsma (his Sony remake), Ralph Kirshbaum (Virgin), and multiple Janos Starker editions. I keep these in my library as an oenophile cultivates a choice collection of fine wines. When I want to break out the vintage port, figuratively speaking, I reach for Heinrich Schiff’s arrestingly individual, musically profound, and sonically sumptuous 1985 EMI traversals.

You notice his sound first. It’s a rich tone through and through: not always pretty, granted, but incredibly focused, be it in the Sixth Suite’s stratospheric tessitura or in bass lines that alternately jab and sustain. While some cellists like to linger over the Preludes, Schiff instead gets down to business, sculpting the harmonic groupings in the manner of a keyboard player. Schiff’s rhythmic vitality and pinpointed accents bring all the dance movements to joyful life. The melodies always bend, curve, and surge over the bar line, avoiding predictable patterns of accentuation. With all that, the listener never loses the beat or, more accurately, the pulse of life. Ornaments are present, but don’t draw attention to themselves.

Originally issued at full-price and quickly deleted, EMI resurrects this unjustly buried treasure for its Double Forte series. It’s like getting a bottle of Dom Perignon for the price of Sangria. Even if you already have one or two Bach Cello Suite cycles in your larder, this one is special. Really special.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: This one, Fournier (DG), Starker (RCA), Pergamenschikow (Hänssler)

J.S. BACH - Cello Suites

  • Heinrich Schiff (cello)
  • EMI - 74179-2
  • CD

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