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Cello or Violin? Cotik Explores the Bach Cello Suites

Bach: The Six Cello Suites, BWV 1007-1012 Tomas Cotik, violin. Centaur 4030/4031 Disc One: Total Time: 56:44 Disc Two: Total Time: 69:00 Recording: ****/**** Performance: ****/****

At first, it might look like a mistake to note that this new release is of the cello suites of Bach, but features the violin. In this new Centaur release, the pieces have been transcribed by the violinist Tomas Cotik who performs these works here. Cotik’s past recordings of Bach, and the Telemann fantasias have made positive impressions both in terms of his nuanced playing and informed performance practices. He takes a page or two from authentic performance practice informing the playing in Baroque style. While playing on a modern instrument, he uses a Baroque bow. This creates an interesting sonic hybrid that allows for a balanced nuance of full sounding held notes, with equally brisker responses when needed for technical passages. This pays off a bit here in these new transcriptions which allows the lower pedal points to have a bit more resonance—also aided by the sound ambience achieved in the recording.

All but the final suite have been transposed to new keys. The first suite feels a bit brighter in its new home of G Major, perhaps as much a result of the shift instrumentally as harmonically. Where the cello plums the depths of the soul, the violin setting seems to reach ever outward inviting us up into the ethereal heights. It means at times that the affect of the music may feel a bit lighter as well, which seems to lessen the weight of the minor mode suites. This shift is an interesting one to consider as it subtly changes the character of the music and provides an interesting reinterpretation of Bach’s intent. The suites themselves allow for the traversal of popular dances of the time and in that sense work well for solo violin. (One might argue that it made less sense for Bach to try this on the cello at the time, but it is one of the great successful experiments of his catalog.) In one sense, they can feel a bit improvisatory in nature which also thus makes for an interesting listening experience in its own right.

And so, as we are treated to Cotik’s masterclass in Baroque performance technique and interpretation, we are given a chance to rehear these classic suites. The articulation and bowing adjustments build upon what he has done in previous releases and that lends a deeper air of authenticity to the sound. These are not the first transcriptions to violin, but it feels more like there have been decisions made to help with the way the lines work on the instrument at the heart of which is the shift of keys. The performances are convincing enough as well to engage the listener as one travels across the varied dance styles. Once again, Centaur’s engineers have captured Cotik’s sound in an appropriate sound image. The violin is front and center, not too closely miked, and with just enough ambient sustain within the recording space to add warmth to the sound. For purists this might be a more controversial release, but many will still find much to admire here in both Cotik’s playing and in the reimagining of these classic works.


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