Ever since J.S. Bach's cello suites were rescued from gathering dust – boundless gratitude is due here to Pablo Casals, the first to record them back in 1936, for contributing to this – they have become a magnet for audiences all over the globe – and understandably so. Nowadays there is no denying that any cellist wanting to be taken seriously will, at some point, go on a pilgrimage to the Suites, usually never to leave again.
No autographed manuscript from Bach’s own hand survived, so we have had to make do with three manuscripts from his wife Anna Magdalena, Johann Peter Kellner and Johann Jacob Heinrich Westphal. None of these come without flaws, and neither do the incessant stream of editions that have followed. If room for interpretation exists intrinsically for any score, such room is significantly bigger for the Cello Suites.
Enter Natalia Gutman, nothing short of an interpreter in the broadest possible sense of this word. Sitting somewhere between her most renowned tutor, Mstislav Rostropovich, and Anner Bylsma, one of the first mavericks of the historically informed style, Gutman proposes a somewhat unusual hybrid interpretation. Some of her gestures remind us of Bylsma – her trademark holding of the bow far from the frog being an obvious trait. But she doesn’t go as far as the Dutch visionary, and instead makes her own choices and propositions.
The most noticeable and possibly controversial decision she makes has to do with the bowings, at times interestingly peculiar and at times slightly hampering of the natural flow of the music. The same ambivalence applies to the flexibility in the rhythm, uncovering yet new ways of understanding this music on occasions while overstepping the whimsical line on others. Still, there is much enjoyment to be had in hearing these familiar notes sounding slightly differently, like a language spoken with an unusual accent.
Judging by the packed hall, Natalia Gutman has not lost any appeal and continues to lure audiences to flock to listen to her.
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