Exhilaratingly brilliant, historically informed performances

Bach Bertrand

The Strad Issue: December 2019

Description: Exhilaratingly brilliant, historically informed performances

Musicians: Emmanuelle Bertrand (cello)

Works: BACH Cello Suites BWV 1007-1012

Catalogue Number: HARMONIA MUNDI HMM 902293.94 (2 CDs)


As with the recent recording of Bach’s Violin Sonatas and Partitas by Giuliano Carmignola (reviewed March 2019), this set of the Cello Suites is the result of the soloist’s late conversion to historically informed performance practice, triggered in this case by an encounter with an early 18th-century instrument by Carlo Tononi. Gut-strung and played at a lower pitch (415Hz) with an appropriate bow, it yields a wealth of sounds and colours that make listening to this recording – made in a warmly resonant Parisian church – a continuing pleasure (albeit one slightly marred by the soloist’s ever-present heavy breathing and occasional moaning).

Emmanuelle Bertrand’s traversal of the cycle is exhilaratingly brilliant, with lively tempos, crisp articulation and some nicely understated rubato. There are a couple of unexpected readings, which with four musical sources (none of them in Bach’s hand) is probably unavoidable. Bertrand employs embellishments so discreetly that they almost take one by surprise. It is her sure instinct for the shaping and colouring of a phrase that remains in the mind, though, as do the countless different ways she finds of breaking a chord or resolving a trill.

Bertrand unfailingly zooms in on the music’s Affekt – to use the Baroque terminology – and expresses it with consistently seductive sounds throughout this beautiful set.