Saturday, March 5, 2011

Johann Sebastian Bach: Cello Suites - Truls Mørk

Johann Sebastian Bach
Cello Suites
Truls Mørk
Virgin 7243 5 45650 2 1

My favorite recording of the Cello Suites. (Sankerib)

Truls Mørk's unaccompanied Bach playing has a lightness and agility that seems to downsize his cello to violin dimensions. No rough edges tarnish his bow arm, while the tiniest dynamic calibrations, articulation choices, and vibrato applications occur because Mørk wants it so. His intonation is better than perfect. Add Virgin Classics' sumptuous engineering (if you can get past Mørk's heavy breathing at times), and all of these qualities should point toward a recommendation. But they don't quite. To my ears, Mørk's interpretations represent a thousand and one gorgeous details that have lost track of the dance.

Let's take the C minor suite, for example. The Allemande's dotted rhythms ought to convey the proud pomp of a French Overture, yet Mørk's studied dynamic inflections pull focus from the rhythmic momentum that Boris Pergamenschikow generates by means of his greater expressive economy and sharper accents. The same is true for Heinrich Schiff's more "traditional", larger-toned viewpoint. You can understand Mørk's sophisticated parsing of the Gigue in order for the phrases not to demarcate the barlines, but don't expect that you'll dance to the music.

A similar intellectualized game plan works better in the D minor suite's Prelude, yet, like Yo-Yo Ma, Mørk coyly pulls back from bass notes that when played louder provide crucial centers of gravity. The Allemande proceeds in a series of pretty, disconnected patterns. Even Paul Tortelier's heavier, legato-based approach communicates a more vibrant inner pulse. Mørk's complete control over the D major suite's punishingly high tessitura impresses, but not so much as Pergamenschikow's purity and restraint. Mørk does best when he "interprets" least, such as in the C major suite's brisk, flowing Prelude, or in his simple and snappy rendition of the famous Bourrée: This is the real Bach and, I suspect, the real Truls Mørk. That said, I have no doubt that cello connoisseurs will savor Mørk's exquisite yet overly self-conscious workmanship.

--Jed DIstler,

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