Alisa Weilerstein review – a fair assault on Bach's cello Everest

St John’s Smith Square, London
Weilerstein showed impressive stamina and played beautifully, but the evening lacked a strong sense of purpose

It’s an Everest for cellists, but there has to be a better reason to programme all six of Bach’s cello suites end to end than just because they’re there.

Alisa Weilerstein may have taken on the challenge too soon. Her performance showed impressive stamina, but its intensity wavered. Taken as a whole, the evening lacked a strong feeling of purpose.

That’s not to say that a lot of the music wasn’t beautifully played: Weilerstein sounded dreamy in the slow Allemande of the G major Suite, No 1, and the Prelude of the D minor Suite, No 2 emerged in expansive lines. Repeated sections often brought a well-judged softening and darkening of her tone. But faster movements tended to be jerky, and moments of impatience early on led to real hurrying later. In the E flat major Suite, No 4, Weilerstein leant so heavily on the two lower notes of each curving sequence that the bars consistently had five beats rather than four; the music seemed peg-legged and clunky.

In the last two suites, Weilerstein gained confidence. She created a mood of stillness with the Prelude to the C minor Suite, No 5; the Courante unfolded in its own sweet time, and the lonely, twisting lines of the Sarabande held the listener rapt. And the D major Suite, No 6, found her making the instrument sing freely in its higher range. Finally, she seemed to know what she wanted to say, and how to say it.


Erica Jeal

The GuardianTramp

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