Claudio Bohorquez: JS Bach - Cello Suites
Using the techniques of the Baroque, Claudio Bohórquez makes a striking new musical argument out of Bach’s finest and most minimal cello work. The circumstances surrounding these performances were, to say the least, exceptional. Word of the 14th-century chapel came from Plushmusic producer Hayden Chisholm, who spent weeks combing the island for the perfect recording spot. He spoke enthusiastically of its acoustic, but failed to mention the resident donkey – an animal with a keen musical sense and a hands-on approach to the recording process. Press photographs taken outside during rehearsal breaks absolutely refused to be moody. The chapel’s surroundings were absurdly pretty enough to decorate Deutsche Gramaphon album covers of the 1970s. Such surroundings need no embellishment, and this might go some way to explaining the clarity Claudio Bohórquez brings to these most complex and satisfying performances.
"In the tradition of Casals, Bohorquez proved to be an artist of incomparable magnitude." Music and Vision
Download includes HD Video & Audio files, and 24 bit audio
Filmed at a countryside chapel near St Domingo, Majorca on 22-23 April 2008
Cello Suite No. 1 in G major, BWV 1007 – 16:41
5. Menuet I and II
Cello Suite No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1008 – 19:39
11. Menuet I and II
Cello Suite No. 3 in C major, BWV 1009 – 20:48
17. Bouree I and II
HD Video and Audio – 57 minutes>
Cameras operated by Jakob Rühle and Arne Massenbach
Lighting by Jakob Rühle
Video editing by Jakob Rühle
Audio recording, editing and mastering by Robert Nacken
Produced by Hayden Chisholm
German-born cellist Claudio Bohórquez divides his time between international concert appearances, solo recitals, chamber music projects, and collaborations with visual and performance artists. He came to the music world’s attention in 2000 when he recieved the top prize in the first International Casals Competition of the Kronberg Academy. As part of the award, he was granted two years to perform on Pablo Casals' famed Goffriller cello.
He has performed widely in Europe and America, working with conductors such as Daniel Barenboim, Sir Neville Marriner, Krzysztof Penderecki, Leonard Slatkin and David Zinman. EMI Classics released his recording of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio a minor in 2005. His first recital CD was released in 2006 on the Berlin Classics label.
Johann Sebastian Bach's patrons rarely did things by halves. In 1708 the young organist was appointed to Weimar as chamber musician to Duke Wilhelm Ernst, one of the two rulers of the Duchy – a man so autocratic he insisted on having all the lights snuffed out by 8pm (9pm in the summer). When, after three years of this, Bach could take no more and tried to leave, the Duke threw him in prison. Bach's next job – Kapellmeister to the young Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen – was altogether more pleasant, and the six Suites for unaccompanied cello are some of the finer products of Bach's residency. He had time to concentrate on secular music, and among his friends were musicians worth writing for. (Christian Bernhard Linike is the cellist Bach most likely had in mind for the Suites.). Four years later the Prince's new wife turned up. Fredericka Henriette had not a musical bone in her body; once again it was time to move on.
Compared to Bach's other collections, the cello suites have a remarkable unifomity. People get terribly excited about this sort of thing. Were the suites intended to be a cycle? Were the originals tidied up a little too enthusiastically by Bach's second wife, Anna Magdalena, whose copies are the earliest manuscripts we have? In any event, they are arguably the greatest works ever written for solo cello. And yet, prior to the 1900s, they were hardly ever played.
Unaccompanied, and requiring a level of exceptional virtuosity, they served better as studies than repertoire – until a young Pablo Casals stumbled upon an edition by the Dresden cellist Friedrich Grützmacher in a thrift shop. Casals' lifelong struggle to interpret the Suites in performance set an often impossibly high bar for subsequent artists. According to the American musicologist Richard Taruskin, "Pablo Casals... revived them from the dead, made them a classic, created their performance practice, and – as interpretations of consummate authority will – ruined them for generations to come."
The problem of interpretation is not a particularly esoteric one. A suite is no more than a sequence of dances. (In Bach's time the sequence Allemande – Courante – Sarabande – Gigue was an established one.) At best, then, it is a vehicle for musical exploration – a means by which composers who grew up in a choral tradition could develop a truly instrumental music. At worst, it's a bag of cats.
As modern listeners we come off particularly badly because we are accustomed to smoothly connected musical lines: we slur everything. Baroque articulations – continually injecting gaps between notes, or emphasizing smaller divisions of each measure – can make us feel positively seasick. More seriously, a fragmented interpretation may simply shatter our attention. So modern interpreters are in a bind from which there is no escape: modern technique smoothes the music to death; baroque practice empties the concert hall.
Bringing out the dance qualities of each piece won't work because we're no longer sure how the dances work (though it's not for want of trying). Equally far-fetched are attempts to describe the suites programmatically. (The British cellist Steven Isserlis argues that the suites are musical "mysteries", travelling from the nativity to the resurrection.)
These ideas are more emblems of anxiety than real solutions. Anyway, who wants solutions? Surely it is better to aspire to the synthesis Mstislav Rostropovich described in his Bach Suite videos: "The hardest thing in interpreting Bach is the necessary equilibrium between human feelings, the heart that undoubtedly Bach possessed, and the severe and profound aspect of interpretation... You cannot automatically disengage your heart from the music. This was the greatest problem I had to resolve in my interpretation ... I had to search for the golden medium between a romantic, rhapsodic interpretation of Bach and scholastic aridity."
Such unresolved tensions hold no terrors for the German-born cellist Claudio Bohórquez. His performances are, in the very best sense, insoluble: arguments rather than architectures. Bohórquez, who divides his time between international concert appearances, solo recitals, chamber music projects, and collaborations with visual and performance artists, is no stranger to the fragmentations demanded by Baroque technique. His approach is, however, about as far from mere 'spinning out' as one can get. In place of easy musical 'goals', he brings a fierce concentration and sensitivity to the process of each movement. A devout buddhist (among his recordings is a benefit CD for the Shambhala Mountain Centre in Colorado), Bohórquez has a fully justified horror of 'closure'. He draws no conclusions. He would rather get under the listener's skin. He wants to be – and is – unforgettable.
The circumstances surrounding these performances were, to say the least, exceptional. Word of the 14th-century chapel came from Plushmusic producer Hayden Chisholm, who spent weeks combing the island for the perfect recording spot. He spoke enthusiastically of its acoustic, but failed to mention the resident donkey – an animal with a keen musical sense and a hands-on approach to the recording process. Press photographs taken outside during rehearsal breaks absolutely refused to be moody. The chapel's surroundings were absurdly pretty enough to decorate Deutsche Gramaphon album covers of the 1970s. Such surroundings need no embellishment, and this might go some way to explaining the clarity Claudio Bohórquez brings to these most complex and satisfying performances.