Bach Weekend review – fluent and fleet cello suites after artful Goldbergs

Milton Court, London
Jean Rondeau may have a cult following but his playing was funereal and po-faced. Jean-Guihen Queras’s cello suites, however, were wonderfully accomplished

The spine of the Barbican’s Bach weekend was provided by John Eliot Gardiner’s three programmes of cantatas with the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists, but the other events grouped around them were just as full of interest and novelty, too. A concert by Solomon’s Knot had included four of the motets, and Isabelle Faust and Kristian Bezuidenhout played violin sonatas, while the Goldberg Variations and three of the cello suites came from Jean Rondeau and Jean-Guihen Queyras respectively.

Rondeau was a pupil of the celebrated harpsichordist Blandine Verlet, and seems to have acquired a cult following in his native France. But other than prefacing this performance of the Goldberg with a statement of the main theme that was almost overwhelmed by ornamentation, before then playing the aria as Bach indicated, there was little evidence of the eccentricity and irreverence on which that reputation has been based. In fact, it was a rather sober, deliberate affair, with tempi that were generally on the slow side. With most of the repeats observed, it lasted 75 minutes. By comparison, the later and more measured of Glenn Gould’s famous recordings clocks in at just 51 minutes.

But it can’t just be the beard, long hair and casual clothes that get Rondeau’s fans so excited, and just occasionally there were glimpses of the kind of playing that suggests a real pedigree – in the perfectly balanced virtuosity with which he dispatched the bravura variations, for instance, and in the exemplary clarity with which he unfolded so many of the canons.

But it was all so po-faced, so lacking in visceral excitement. Even the final variations, the quodlibet, had an almost funereal tread to it.

Jean-Guihen Queyras plays Bach’s suites for unaccompanied cello.
Natural and expressive … Jean-Guihen Queyras plays Bach’s suites for unaccompanied cello. Photograph: Alecsandra Raluca Dragoi/the Guardian

After such self-consciously artful Bach playing, Queyras’s account of the first three cello suites came as rather a relief. His playing had a wonderful fluency and naturalness to it, without a hint of grandstanding or attention-seeking. Other interpreters perhaps dig more expressive profundity out of the sarabandes than Queyras did, especially in the second suite in D minor, and there were moments especially in the third suite, in C major, when his fleetness threatened to seem a bit glib, but it was wonderfully accomplished all the same.


Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Bach Collegium Japan/Suzuki review – tightly plotted drama with real bite
Conductor Masaaki Suzuki set an urgent pace while compelling performances from soloists helped pile on the tension

Erica Jeal

11, Mar, 2020 @12:14 PM

Article image
Bach Cello Suites review – revelatory reboot | Erica Jeal's classical album of the week
Violinist Rachel Podger makes Bach’s suites sound as if they were written for her instrument, such is her buoyancy and agility

Erica Jeal

02, May, 2019 @2:00 PM

Article image
Windrush: A Celebration review – a devastating carnival of black music
Curated by Anthony Joseph, this London jazz festival event offered a powerful mix of reggae, soca, Afrobeat, soul, jazz and the written word, with a strong undercurrent of righteous anger

John Lewis

18, Nov, 2018 @3:07 PM

Article image
Bach: The French Suites CD review – harpsichordist of expressive heft

Kate Molleson

02, Jun, 2016 @2:30 PM

Article image
CD: Bach: Cello Suites, Jean-Guihen Queyras

(Harmonia Mundi, two CDs & DVD)

Andrew Clements

01, Feb, 2008 @12:13 AM

Article image
Angela Hewitt review – brain-teasing Bach and Beethoven's bite
Hewitt’s celebration of Beethoven in his 250th anniversary year, packaged with music by Bach, a source of his inspiration, was brilliant, exuberant and expressive

Rian Evans

26, Jan, 2020 @11:34 AM

Article image
St John Passion review – immersive and communal Bach staging is deeply touching
Intensity and urgency underpin English Touring Opera’s communal reflections on faith, loss and mortality

Tim Ashley

08, Mar, 2020 @10:54 AM

Article image
SoundState festival review – buzzing with ideas
From the sonic possibilities of a ping-pong ball to Rebecca Saunders’ terrifying timbres, the five-day new-music festival offered plenty to fascinate and outrage

John Lewis

21, Jan, 2019 @6:13 PM

Article image
Tectonics review – noise, toys and heavenly soundscapes
The BBC SSO’s dreamy drones mingle with plastic-cup players and flocks of bleating kazoos at the festival of experimental sounds

Katie Hawthorne

07, May, 2019 @2:00 PM

Article image
Wysing Polyphonic review – explosions in the sonic inventing shed
Moor Mother and Paul Purgas curate an inspirational gathering where electronic artists, dancers and poets freely test the boundaries of expression

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

02, Sep, 2018 @11:50 AM