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4.8 out of 5 stars
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4.8 out of 5 stars
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Bach created incomparable masterpieces in his six suites for unaccompanied cello.

Bach performed his cello suites within the framework of the standard baroque suite: four basic older dances - allemande, courante, sarabande, and gigue, - and Galanterien an optional group of newer, shorter, and more homophonic dances usually in pairs - in the cello suites pairs of minuets, bourrees, or gavottes - which Bach inserted between the last two older dances. The only non-dance movement is the Prelude. The six Preludes are fascinating because each exploits a different mood of the cello.

The delight of the cello suites rests in the perfection of design, the beauty of their melodies and counterpoints, and the marvelous exploitation of the instrument.

The rendition is informed by two remarks of the artist which appear in the liner-note respectively on he cover and in the body of the text: ''Bach in German means 'brook', explained Tortelier. ''If you add too much expression, the water stops flowing... if you want to do an abstract Bach, then the water turns cold. That's no longer a Bach who glorifies God and nature...''; ''Pablo Casals used to say, 'First comes Bach -then all the others,' Despite my great love for many of the others - not least Beethoven and Mozart - I can only agree with Casals. Bach dominates the whole lot''.

The rendition is warm with an exquisite variation of pace, color, and emphasis; I felt the underlying passion of the artist expressed in a lucid, vivid, dancing rendition with an underlying admiration and veneration for Bach. I had the continuous feeling that I was not a passive listener but an active participant in the creative process and through the sublime music a communion with the intent and spirit of Bach. The experience was moving, gratifying, and fulfilling bordering on euphoria.
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on 9 August 2017
A good recording and playing
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 2 August 2011
Paul Tortelier (March 21, 1914 - December 18, 1990)

I first encountered Paul Tortelier on BBC Two when he gave his wonderful series of "Masterclasses"; a devout and natural polymath, he slipped unassumingly from language to language searching for the right words or sensitively discuss a student's playing before playing it himself to illustrate his points. With his unusually bent end pin and spike and his individualistic method, e.g. using only one finger on strings to heighten and deepen the strings' free vibration, most often, his enthusiasm would take him and he would just join in and play along. That joy, depth of enthusiasm, sensitivity and high degree of academic understanding are evident on this CD.
A great exponent of Bach, in his phrasing, fingering and dynamics, he draws all there is from these wonderful pieces in virtuoso performances, recorded sensitively to bring out the true, resonant quality of the instrument.
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It's surprising how very different interpretations of these amazing solo works can each convince you that, yes, that's the way they should go. Certainly, with Bach's Cello Suites as with Shakespeare's Cleopatra, custom cannot stale their infinite variety. Casals, their rediscoverer, brought his inimitable mix of style and passion to them. Rostropovich seemed to chisel them out of the rock like some marmoreal Michelangelo statue. For some cellists, they are towering and grandiloquent. For others, they are intimate and personal. Some emphasise the joy of the dance movements, others the intensity of the sarabandes, others still apply the strictest theories of authentic period performance to them.

Anyone of a certain age will recall the passionate commitment to these Suites shown by a highly charismatic Tortelier in his TV masterclasses of 50 years or so ago. That same commitment shines through these performances from the 70's. These are readings where you can take technique for granted. What's more important, Tortelier allows the infinite variety of the Suites themselves and each of the movements within them to speak their own language. There's charm, wit, humour, beauty, emotion, spirituality as it's called for. Tortelier understands that these are dance suites, but that they also encapsulate great profundity in their notes. If I had to sum up his interpretations in one word, it would be their `humanity'. And that seems particularly right for the secular works Bach wrote with such obvious pleasure while he was at the court of the young Prince Leopold in Cothen. Away from the world of church services, Bach produced works that were just as profound in a different, I'm tempted to say more human, certainly more humanist way. That is something that seems particularly close to Tortelier's heart and thinking. And it comes out wonderfully in these performances.
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on 19 December 2005
As an ex professional 'cellist myself I'm more than familiar with these suites by Bach. Their content is detailed in other reviews - here I wish to comment just on Tortelier's interpretation.
One of the greatest things about the suites is that they are so flexible to player's interpretation and Tortelier makes this abundantly clear with the opening bars of the prelude to the first suite. His technique is astounding, precise, lyrical and beautiful. The music literally dances in novel and previously unimagined ways that blows me away every time I hear it.
Yo Yo Ma's extremely accomplished suites are lush and beautiful but sound flat, dull and unimaginative by comparison. Rostropovich's suites sound ham fisted, bullying the music out of the instrument without the dexterity or refinement of Tortelier. Even the god-like Casals would have to admit that Tortelier's account of this incredible music puts more depth into every note than even he could manage.
Buy this record. Buy it for anyone that has ever known the suites and especially buy it for anyone that already owns a copy by another 'cellist. Any 'cellist. If he recorded no other record in his lifetime this recording alone would mark him out as a genius. If each piece is a song then Tortelier turns them into Operas.
Don't take my word for it. Listen for yourself. I swear that afterwards you'll be compelled to write something similar here!
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on 23 December 2013
I have always favoured this recording of the 15 or so that I own. I had assumed that others would be swayed by Casals, Rostropovich or Ma and this little gem would be forgotten. So, how pleasing to see this ranked number one on Amazon.

So go ahead and renew your faith in humanity. This is music from the top drawer.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 2 November 2007
These recordings from 1983 were originally available as two separate CDs, which is how I first came to hear them. They are now available on the EMI Classics label as `Great Recordings of the Century'.

These works, like much of Bach's music, were long neglected during the Romantic and Modern periods as being too dry, academic and old-fashioned. They are now sitting happily at the centre of Bach's many compositions for solo instruments and are considered to be some of the finest works ever written for the solo cello.

The return to popularity, if in fact they were ever really popular in Bach's time, must be attributed to Pablo Casals (1876-1973) who picked up the manuscripts of this work and brought the music to life, and into the public domain once again thanks in no small part to his profile as one of the great modern cello virtuosos.

Since this renewed interest there have been transcriptions for other solo instruments such as viola, bass, guitar, horn saxophone and trombone, but none of these compare to the solo cello versions.

These Tortelier recordings remain the benchmark, despite competition from the likes of Starker, Fournier, Schiff, Harrell, Kirshbaum, Gendron, Wispelwey and Ma.

I bought these recordings during the 1980s when my enthusiasm for Bach was still in its infancy, my appreciation at that time being limited simply to the `Brandenburgs' and a few violin concertos. But such was the impact that these most intimate and emotional works had on me, I was compelled to search for more of the composer's music.

It's thanks to these recordings that I have come to admire and appreciate Bach's music.
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on 5 June 2013
Heard this years ago , & saw the musician on t.v master class .wanted to recapture the experience ,best listened to alone & hear the silence.
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on 25 May 2008
I currently own recordings of the Bach cello suites by Rostropovich, Casals, Yo-Yo Ma and Fournier and have heard many others. Tortelier's recording is my firm favourite. The pace is just right; slow enough to express feeling, but fast enough to realise the no doubt intended flow to the pieces. Tortelier is completely at one with the Bach Cello Suites in these recordings, and plays them beautifully. Highly recommended.
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on 18 November 2005
Torterlier was a friend of Pablo Casals, and was invited to be principal cellist at the first Prades Festival, which commemorated the 200th anniversary of Bach's death. He admired Casals very much and imitated some of his technique. He said of Casals, "...he was probably the first cellist to use his left hand in the manner of a pianist--that is, by normally placing only one finger on the string at a time, rather than keeping all the fingers clamped down. This allowed the fingers to vibrate freely." (From The Strad, April '84) Ginsberg wrote, "Creative fantasy and a youthful abandon are inherent in his performing style."
Tortelier was so moved by the Israeli effort to establish a homeland that he moved to Israel to assist in the effort. He was forty years old then, at the height of his cellist powers. He and his wive and their two children lived in Mabaroth, a Kibbutz, just a few hundred yards from the enemy border.
From 1956 to 1969 he was a professor at the Paris Conservatoire, and at the Folkwang Hochschule in Essen, from 1969 to 1975. Shortly thereafter he became the first Westerner to be an honorary Professor of Music at the Central Conservatoire in Beijing, China. He was a Frenchman, but advised his students to avoid French music. Not that he disliked it, but he realized that the public wanted to hear Beethoven and Mozart. He taught his students to be international in their musical tastes and performances. As is the case with Rostropovich, Tortelier gradually began to do more conducting as he grew older.

He had an outgoing, lively personality, and taught master classes on British television. The classes were quite popular, even with people who knew little about the cello or classical music. Tortelier has a reputation for being a great story-teller, and a wide knowledge of art and literature, as well as music. He not only is an excellent performer, but also a composer of many cello works. His Sonata Breve (Bucephale), and Alla Maud are particularly well-known, as are his two cello concertos.
His edition of the Bach Suites came out in 1966. He said, with regard to the Suites, "To breathe life into music is more important than to prove respect for it." In 1971 he published his cello method, How I Play, How I Teach, which is particularly useful in training pupils to play modern music. He was founder and president of the "Mouvement Beethoven Association," begun on the 200th anniversary of Beethoven's birth, and designed to support progressively-minded composers.
I yearn to deeply comprehend the Bach Cello Suites. Whether Pablo Casals, Paul Tortelier, Rostropovich, or whoever your favorite cellist may be, they all rightfully speak of the Suites with an effusive reverence. They all refer to the "infinity" of Bach, the "oceanic depths" of Bach, or the "cathedral" of Bach.
Though inspiring and poetic words, as a student of the Suites, I want to know more. But on listening over and over to Tortelier, I fancy that I begin to comprehend.
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