It is evident to cellists that most composers have had little experience with the physical act of playing the instrument, and thus performance technique, as a source of inspiration, supplied little direction to their writing. The three works on this recording deviate from this shortcoming to marvelous effect.
The Sixth Suite for Unaccompanied Cello by J. S. Bach was written ca. 1720, at a time when Bach was happiest and most productive. Employed by Prince Leopold in Cöthen as Director of Music, he had few fixed obligations and was mostly free to pursue his own compositional interests. One of these interests was to experiment with the cello, to understand it, and exploit its capabilities. Although the most involved and complex of the cello suites is the Fifth, it is the Sixth Suite that is the most adventurous and which best blends a virtuoso style with compositional perfection in baroque form.
The Grande Étude Symphonique by Louis Abbiate (1866–1933) is the culminating composition in his pedagogical course on cello playing, coming after some 300 pages of preliminary studies. Other than the Kodály solo cello Sonata, this is the only work I know of in which a cello alone evokes a symphonic texture. A unique variety of physical techniques are required of the performer and I have never encountered some of these techniques elsewhere. The structure is cyclical but successively builds upon itself and extracts more and more potential from the whole range of the instrument. In a remarkable turnabout that would not typically satisfy the ego of a virtuoso, and unlike other compositions of tremendous difficulty that end with a grand finale, this piece changes direction to finish with a peaceful ascent that floats us away into eternity.
Mon Cirque by cellist and composer Paul Tortelier (1914–1990) is music clearly inspired by the act of cello playing itself. Almost every passage uses hand movements and finger dispositions that would occur only to an expert cellist, fiddling with the instrument, searching to discover new, captivating combinations. The result is the development of an exceptionally rich and colorful palette which Tortelier uses to portray circus acts in musical form. As Bach employs different voices, and Abbiate demonstrates orchestral textures, Tortelier with greater explicitness imitates circus performers. This is Tortelier’s most brilliant work and more, it is one of the most successful pieces of program music written for cello by any composer.
Music at Lonely Peaks Records
“A lonely peak of grandeur”—is the way one Bach biographer described the achievement of the six works for unaccompanied violin, and the words are well chosen. They represent an ultimate sophistication and difficulty. The extraordinary inventiveness with which Bach created his masterpieces not only stretched the capabilities of the instrument but also require from the performer endurance, concentration, and critical interpretative insight to shape the separate movements into a logical whole.
Lonely Peaks Records was organized with the fullness of that thought in mind. A good recording reveals a complex story. We look for honesty when we make a recording—what the instruments really sound like, presented with clarity and realism. We are more interested in placing the microphones where they need to be to hear inside the music and less interested in having our records sound like you are seated in the tenth row. Good recording technique will allow the recording artist to do his work, which is to reveal the multifaceted beauty that exists in the details of great music. We make great classical music recordings that usually feature the cello alone, or small ensemble chamber music, where there is more freedom to express oneself, more give and take between colleagues, more spontaneity and intimacy than are really ever possible in even the most successful orchestral recordings.
Recording can make music a much more cogent experience for the listener. The artist has more options and more choice in the performance that is captured. The listener benefits from microphone placement and always has the best seat in the house. Moreover, a wonderful performance isn't lost; it can be heard again and again. If your playback equipment is good, the experience can be overwhelming—heard properly at home, intimately, quietly, and reflectively. Good music is made for an individual's consideration and appreciation...to move the emotions well.