With the release of his album Bach 6 with 4, cellist Amit Peled completes his cycle of the six suites for unaccompanied cello by Johann Sebastian Bach. While there are many sets of the suites available – recording them seems to be a rite of passage for every professional solo cellist – Peled’s set is unique and extraordinary in a number of ways.
The first three suites are played on the very same 1733 Grofiller on which the great Catalan cellist, conductor and humanitarian Pablo Casals recorded his legendary set in the 1930s, the first complete recording of the suites. He was lent the cello by Casals’ widow Maria Istomin, who encouraged him to find his own musical voice through the instrument.
The 4th and 5th suites were recorded on a different instrument in Peled’s own home during the pandemic lockdown, a sadly appropriate setting for music that explores the possibilities of a single musician in isolation on an instrument unaccustomed to being heard alone.
The 6th suite, which Bach wrote for a now-obsolete five-string instrument, poses tremendous technical challenges for anyone playing it on a modern cello, its writing so complex that even the greatest cellists who have performed this work can’t avoid drawing more attention to the work’s difficulties than its sublime musical line. In order to avoid that pitfall, Peled chose to record this suite with a quartet of cellos, in which he is joined by three of his current and former students to perform an arrangement that eloquently fleshes out the harmonies and counterpoint the original version can only imply, and provides a grounding framework for its virtuosic writing.
I submitted a series of questions to Amit about this project, to which he replied with audio recordings of his spoken answers. I found his speaking so compelling and moving that I decided that, instead of transcribing his answers into written text, I would edit his responses with excerpts from his recordings to create a narrative of his journey with the Bach Suites. It begins with a short excerpt from Pablo Casals’ recording; everything else you hear on this piece is spoken or played by Amit Peled.
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