The Strad Issue: January 2011
Description: Light, intriguing performances of the later Bach suites
Musicians: Roel Dieltiens (cello)
Composer: Bach

Belgian cellist Roel Dieltiens, for years continuo cellist for Rene Jacobs and principal cello of the Orchestra of the 18th Century, is true to his period roots in these interpretations. But there is also a quirkiness to his performance, particularly in the ornamentation, expressive of a personality that won’t be suppressed.

The light, detached bow strokes and the generous use of ornamentation in the repeat sections of each dance are the most immediately striking elements of these performances, which steer clear of expressive weight. Dieltiens often ornaments with rapid scalic runs, which occasionally get out of hand: in the D minor Gigue he practically inserts a beat, and in the second half of the C major Courante the original melodic shape and any sense of pulse are lost for several bars in a flurry of semiquavers. The cover picture shows Dieltiens, a pupil of Navarra and Fournier, playing a Baroque cello, but frustratingly no details are given about the instrument or the thinking behind his interpretation.

The recording really makes you aware of the hardware involved – horsehair on gut – none of your effortless sweeping across the strings. Dieltiens uses minimal vibrato, and relishes the timbre of the open A string when it occurs in the Sarabande of Suite no.4 (my single favourite movement in this set) and, tuned down a tone, in the C minor Suite. His decision to play the Sixth Suite’s Sarabande top line only for its first section, adding the chords on the repeat, while revolutionary, makes good stylistic sense.