Primephonic – Anna Magdalena’s Faithful Copy

December 3rd, 2015
In Matt Haimovitz’s impressive almost-two-and-a-half hour recording, we are taken on a journey through the dances most of us may have heard on separate occasions, one suite at a time, or programmed as stand-alone movements, but rarely had the opportunity to experience in such a neat unit. This rarity is a very special must-have for this reason. The album is full of Haimovitz’s personality, with distinctive expressive flourishes and quirks.
Rachel Deloughry

Firstly, the fact that Matt Haimovitz recorded the entire solo cello suites is in itself remarkable. This tour de force, recorded on the Pentatone label in collaboration with his own label Oxingale, is a credit to this exceptionally versatile Grammy-nominated cellist. Interestingly, today is the birthday of Haimovitz and also commemorates the wedding day of Johann Sebastian and Anna Magdalena Bach.

On this day in 1721, Johann Sebastian Bach, aged 36, got married to his second wife Anna Magdalena, the 20 year old daughter of a court trumpeter. He dedicated two manuscripts of keyboard compositions to her, entitled Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach. A well-regarded singer in her own right, Anna Magdalena will also forever be remembered as her husband’s copyist.

The Cello Suites

The Cello Suites According to Anna Magdalena J.S Bach

Anna Magdalena made a copy of Bach’s cello suites: the invaluable manuscript that we have today. Were it not for this manuscript, the cello suites would be lost forever. As is customary in Baroque suites, the cello suites consist of Baroque dance forms: preludes, allemandes, courantes, sarabandes, minuets, gigues, bourées and gavottes. Bach was thought to have composed his cello suites during his time at Cothen. The title inscribed in this manuscript is Suites a violoncello Solo senza Basso (Suites for solo cello without bass).

The suites went through an interesting but uncertain history, abandoned over the generations and the object of a great deal of speculation. Due to their technical demand and étude-like nature, they were kept out of the concert hall, and were thought to be mere technical studies, not concert pieces. That is, until they were revived by the renowned Pablo Casals in the early 20th century. They are now seen as one of Bach’s greatest achievements. Many years ago, an Australian academic, Professor Martin Jarvis, made claims that Anna Magdalena may have been the actual composer, but his claims were dismissed by Bach scholars such as Christoph Wolff and the cellist Steven Isserlis, who opined “I’m afraid that his theory is pure rubbish.”

In Matt Haimovitz’s impressive almost-two-and-a-half hour recording, we are taken on a journey through the dances most of us may have heard on separate occasions, one suite a a time, or programmed as stand-alone movements, but rarely had the opportunity to experience in such a neat unit. This rarity is a very special must-have for this reason. The album is full of Haimovitz’s personality, with distinctive expressive flourishes and quirks.

By far the best-known movement is the very first one, the ravishing Prelude of Suite no. 1 in G major BWV 1007, with its arpeggiated chords as its most defining melodic feature. Here Matt Haimovitz takes such a leisurely approach to rhythm, it almost sounds romantic in approach. Another interesting moment is in the courante movement of Suite II in D minor, where Haimovitz displays a vibrant mood. Sometimes it seems to be in outbursts on energy, interspersed with laying low and calm.

It is hard to add something of one’s own to Bach without taking away, but here Matt Haimovitz does so artfully.

By Rachel Deloughry

Read at: Primephonic

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