I was really looking forward to these after reading the reviews. I have several versions already and love the music so I put on my headphones and settled back with high expectations. I am about 15 minutes into listening and at first I thought I had a dodgy recording or that someone was doing a soft shoe shuffle on sand while it was being played. Then I realised I was listening to carefully recorded breathing - probably of the artist. Although the playing is wonderful the breathing sounds are insanely distracting. Some people may not mind and it may produce a feeling of intimacy but I find it torturous and frustrating. I give the playing top marks but the sound engineer should have dealt with the breathing. What makes it frustrating is that without the intrusive breath sounds it would probably quickly join my favourite recordings. Listening to something live you do not have a microphone up the artists nose which is what this sounds like. Can't believe no one else mentioned it. The playing is good enough to make me want to persevere and tune the ambient breathing out - I will edit the review later if I find I can actually live with it for the sake of what otherwise appears to be a masterful performance.
Later edit - see comments attached - I have given it another star because listened to on speakers the breathing is not so distracting and the performance is outstanding.
Like the above reviewer I have lived with and loved several versions of these wonderful works...Schiff, Ma (1st version on CBS), Rostropovich and Isserlis top my list in that order (although I've never heard the Wispelwey recording). Until now. Sticking my neck out I find elements of Rostropovich slightly gruff, and Ma's can sound a little too silky-smooth but I'm being picky. No one version of these pieces can ever fully satisfy everyone but Truls Mork ticks more boxes for me than the rest:
Sonically it is perfect to my ear, his rich cello wonderfully close-up and sonorous so that you hear every tiny nuance in his colourful palette of sound, set against a back-drop of a resonant church acoustic which allows the notes to breathe and blossom. In recorded terms it is a similar sound-world/balance to the ECM disc of John Holloway's Sonatas and Partitas, also a top recommendation. Isserlis' cello suites sing most lyrically and are also close-up and intimate but are lacking Mork's resonant acoustic which for me is the icing on the cake.
Performance-wise Mork achieves extraordinary variety in his interpretation, from his gentle, musing rubato which gives an wistful, improvisatory feel (sample the Sarabande in suite no.1 for instance) to his beautifully sprung articulation in dancier movements (try the gigue from suite no.3). Elsewhere darkness, pathos, strength, brilliance and a sense of enjoyment are all in abundance.
And all wedded to this exquisitely rich sound. These discs are a private concert and spiritual experience par excellence....sit back, dim the lights and enjoy!
I have tried Isserlis, Ma, Cassals, Tortelier, and probably second best for me Peter Wispelwey. I freely admit I haven't heard Schiff, Rostopovich or Fournier. This simply is for me the greatest recording yet of these pieces. The rhythms dance, there are dramatic moments that fit with Bach's magnificent vision, the profound Sarabande of the 5th suite is moving yet not over wrought.
These are difficult pieces to concentrate on if you haven't heard them before and require concentration to get the most from them-but here the music making makes it all seem transparent and natural.
I have loved these works for over 40 years. I started with Casals and Tortelier on LP, and on CD I have two versions by Janos Starker [Mercury and RCA], and Steven Isserlis on Hyperion. On seeing that this highly recommended recording was available as a download for only £2.99, how could I resist? My initial response is very favourable, and while it will not displace my affections for some of the older versions, I already much prefer it to the Isserlis. What are the chief merits of this set? Well, we are left in no doubt that this is music from the early eighteenth century, or that it is essentially dance music. Mork plays with a proper sense of period, and he achieves a lightness and bouyancy, with no sense of strain whatever. Indeed, he even manages to make the music sound easy and effortless - which, of course it is not. He does not linger over juicy detail and is never lugubrious; but on the other hand nothing here sounds perfunctory. Indeed, he makes me want to dance. These airborn performances manage to achieve the seemingly impossible, being at the same time both historically informed and utterly contemporary. I can see this set becoming a firm favourite.
Having only recently started exploring classical music I can't claim to have knowledge of any other versions of these cello suites, and have to admit to being lured towards this version by the price and the favourable reviews. I'm very happy with my purchase and have thoroughly enjoyed listening. The recording is fantastically clear and the accoustics are brilliant (I understand it was recorded in a church). I look forward to hearing other versions over time, but I would say that this is a good baseline! Recommended.