J.S. Bach: The Six Cello Suites
Kirche St.Peter, Zurich, 2021-04-25
2022-05-02 — Original posting
Anastasia Kobekinas faszinierende Gesamtaufführung von Bachs Cellosuiten in Zürich — Zusammenfassung
Nach 15 Monaten der Pandemie stehen die Zeichen gut, dass das Konzertleben endlich (definitiv und vorläufig endgültig!) wieder Fahrt aufnehmen kann. Die Besucherzahl ist momentan zwar noch auf 50 begrenzt—doch: was für ein Neubeginn dies war! Mit Anastasia Kobekina (*1994) trat eine der vielversprechendsten Cellistinnen ihrer Generation in der Kirche St.Peter in Zürich auf. Nicht nur einmal, sondern gleich in drei Solo-Rezitalen am gleichen Nachmittag. Sie präsentierte den Höhepunkt des barocken Cello-Repertoires: in drei einstündigen Auftritten jeweils zwei Suiten für Violoncello solo (BWV 1007 – 1012) von Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750).
Im ersten Rezital spielte die Cellistin zwischen den Suiten Nr.1 in G-dur und Nr.6 in D-dur eine Komposition ihres Vaters, Vladimir Kobekin (*1947), Narrenschiff. In der zweiten Konzertstunde stand die eindrücklich anrührende Komposition In memoriam des Schweizers Jean-Sélim Abdelmoula (*1991) zwischen den Cellosuiten Nr.2 in d-moll und Nr.5 in c-moll. Im letzten Rezital mit den Suiten Nr.4 in Es-dur und Nr.3 in C-dur fand sich an zentraler Stelle eine hinreißende Bearbeitung des berühmten Fandango von Luigi Boccherini (1743 – 1805) durch den Italiener Giovanni Sollima (*1962).
In diesen Aufführungen musizierte Anastasia Kobekina auf einem wunderbaren Cello von Guadagnini, aus dem Jahr 1743, mit einem “modernen” Tourte-Bogen. Es war jedoch faszinierend, zu sehen, wie sehr die Cellistin an ihrer Arbeit mit Barockcello (mit Darmsaiten und Barockbogen) künstlerisch gewachsen ist: abgesehen vom spezifischen Klang der Darmsaiten entstand bei Bach beinahe durchgängig der Eindruck, die Künstlerin spiele auf barockem Instrumentarium. Ohnehin bewegte sich die Aufführung musikalisch und technisch auf begeisterndem, allerhöchstem Niveau, zu dem man Anastasia Kobekina nur herzlich gratulieren kann!
Table of Contents
- The Artist: Anastasia Kobekina
- Setting, etc.
- Recitals & Review
- On Bach’s Suites for Violoncello Solo senza Basso
- Bach: Cello Suite No.1 in G major, BWV 1007
- Vladimir Kobekin: Narrenschiff (The Ship of Fools)
- Bach: Cello Suite No.6 in D major, BWV 1012
- Bach: Cello Suite No.2 in D minor, BWV 1008
- Jean-Sélim Abdelmoula: In memoriam
- Bach: Cello Suite No.5 in C minor, BWV 1011
- Bach: Cello Suite No.4 in E♭ major, BWV 1010
- Luigi Boccherini / Giovanni Sollima: Fandango
- Bach: Cello Suite No.3 in C major, BWV 1009
|Venue, Date & Time||Kirche St.Peter in Zurich, 2021-04-25 15:00 / 17:00 / 19:00|
|Series / Title||Neue Konzertreihe Zürich — Wir machen Konzert!|
(New Concert Series Zurich — We are offering concerts again!)
Anastasia Kobekina — The Six Cello Suites by J.S. Bach
|Organizer||Hochuli Konzert AG|
|Related Reviews||Concerts featuring Anastasia Kobekina|
CD “Anastasia Kobekina Performing Works by Vladimir Kobekin” (see also below)
Concerts organized by Hochuli Konzert AG
Concerts at Kirche St.Peter, Zurich
The pandemic has made the past 15 months very difficult for musicians, as well as for organizers. Now, after months where only “ghost concerts” with live streaming were possible, Switzerland appears to come out of the third wave slowly. The authorities are gradually loosening up the COVID-19 restrictions. Concerts are again possible, though for the time being with a maximum audience size of 50. This cannot possibly pay off financially, but it certainly allows artists to maintain some presence in the music scene. It equally should permit concert organizers to keep a foot in the door”; this was, they can hit the ground running once concert life resumes to full extent.
In this desperate situation, I was more than happy to learn that one of my favorite cellists making an appearance in Zurich’s St.Peter Church:
The Artist: Anastasia Kobekina
I don’t need to introduce the Russian cellist Anastasia Kobekina (Анастасия Кобекина, born 1994 in Yekaterinburg, see also Wikipedia): back in 2018, I have already attended and reviewed three orchestral concerts where she performed central solo parts. Since these concerts in 2018, however, Anastasia Kobekina has won the Bronze Medal at the 16th International Tchaikovsky Competition in St.Petersburg (2019), which certainly has given her career a substantial push.
Moreover, the artist has continued her education, taking lessons with Jérôme Pernoo (*1972) in Paris, while at the same time broadening her scope on the baroque cello, through studies with Kristin von der Goltz (*1966) at the Frankfurt University of Music and Performing Arts (Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst Frankfurt am Main).
For additional biographic information see the Artist’s Website. As she fascinated me back then, I have since tried keeping track of her, and earlier this year I reviewed a CD of hers (see the link above), where she is performing music by her father—more on that below.
Anastasia Kobekina’s recital was actually in three parts of approximately 1 hour each—one-recital-in-three or three-recitals-in-one, so to say:
For the most part, Anastasia Kobekina was presenting her interpretation of the Six Suites for Violoncello Solo senza Basso, BWV 1007 – 1012 by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750). Each of the three recitals featured two of Bach’s Suites surrounding a shorter contemporary composition. These newer works was performed twice, before and after a short interview by Andreas Müller-Crepon, presenter at Switzerland’s Radio SRF 2 Kultur. The recitals were captured on video, parts of these recordings will be streamed at a later point in time.
Here’s the outline of the program:
Part I, 15:00h:
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750): Cello Suite No.1 in G major, BWV 1007
Vladimir Kobekin (*1947): Narrenschiff (The Ship of Fools)
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750): Cello Suite No.6 in D major, BWV 1012
Part II, 17:00h:
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750): Cello Suite No.2 in D minor, BWV 1008
Jean-Sélim Abdelmoula (*1991): In memoriam
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750): Cello Suite No.5 in C minor, BWV 1011
Part III, 19:00h:
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750): Cello Suite No.4 in E♭ major, BWV 1010
Luigi Boccherini (1743 – 1805) / Giovanni Sollima (*1962): Fandango
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750): Cello Suite No.3 in C major, BWV 1009
In the text below, I’m following the order of the program, and I treat the three recitals as one.
In line with the allowed audience size, there were around 50 people in the audience, spread mainly over the central part of the nave, with adequate physical distancing. I enjoyed the privilege of having a seat on the organ balcony in the rear of the nave—an excellent view, perfect for taking photos.
In these recitals, Anastasia Kobekina was playing on a marvelous 1743 cello by Giovanni Battista Guadagnini (1711 – 1786). She was awarded this instruments as a loan, with her win at the TONALi Competition 2015 in Hamburg.
As was pointed out in one of the interviews, this cello was manufactured during Bach’s lifetime. However, as most baroque instruments by prominent luthiers, the instrument has undergone some modernization, through the addition of an endpin, a steeper neck, and a longer fingerboard. The aim of these modifications was a bigger tone, to make the instruments suited for bigger concert halls. Consequently, such instruments are no longer equipped with pure gut strings. Anastasia Kobekina also used a modern (Tourte) style bow.
Instrumentation in Bach’s Cello Suites
At Bach’s time, cellos were in the original, baroque form (see above), with gut strings (most likely tuned to a’ = 415 Hz (if not even 392 Hz, i.e., half a tone, or a full tone lower than modern tiuning at a’ = 440 Hz). Given its extended tonal range, the modern or modernized cello is of course perfectly suited for these suites—in theory. That’s what most cellists use in their recordings of the Suites.
A baroque instrument with pure gut strings has a slightly different sound—less smooth, maybe slightly more rough, characterful, more “natural”, and slightly smaller. More importantly, the baroque bow imposes substantial differences in the articulation. Needless to say that I actually prefer the “original, baroque sound”.
The Suites 5 and 6 have some peculiarities:
- Suite No.5 in C minor requires the top string (A) to be tuned down by a full tone, to G
- Suite No.6 in D major is written for a five-string instrument (C-G-D-A-E) and explores an unusually high range of tones. There is an open debate whether Bach meant a violoncello piccolo (played between the knees) or rather a violoncello da spalla, an instrument played in front of one’s chest or braced against a shoulder.
With minor modifications, the Suite No.5 can also be played with standard tuning, though this really wasn’t the idea, and it also alters the sound, the character. Suite No.6 can be played on a modern instrument, thanks to the longer fingerboard—though some will argue that the lack of the E string will also alter the sound, especially through the resonances of the open string.
Anastasia Kobekina’s Choice of Instrument
Last year, Anastasia Kobekina already performed three of Bach’s Suites in concert, in Paris (Suites 2, 3, and 6). I remember watching this performance (or parts thereof) as video stream. I also remember that at least for Suite #3, the artist performed on a baroque cello and with baroque bow, whereas the Suite #6 was performed on her “modernized” Guadagnini. It was amazing to observe how much the baroque instrument and bow altered the articulation, the character of the music, and I was stunned and fascinated to see to what degree Anastasia Kobekina had adopted what is now widely regarded “historically informed” or “historically correct” performance practice.
Needless to say that to some degree I regretted seeing the artist perform the Zurich recitals on the Guadagnini—despite the superior quality and sound of that instrument. However, of course, I fully understand the pleasure that she takes from playing on that wonderful 1743 Guadagnini! I definitely don’t mean to blame her for that choice:
- to a fair degree, baroque bowing / right hand technique can be applied also with a modern (Tourte) type bow, see below.
- while a baroque cello is just fine for Suites 1 – 5, that instrument is anything but ideal for the Suite No.6 in D major, given its shorter finger board.
The latter point implies that for a historically “correct” performance, two instrument—e.g., a cello and a violoncello piccolo—are required. This raises questions about availability and transportability. Last, but not least, a baroque instrument (and bow) may not meet the requirements for the contemporary pieces.
Recitals & Review
On Bach’s Suites for Violoncello Solo senza Basso
All six of Bach-s cello suites share the same structure: a Prélude, followed by the four standard movements in a baroque suite, i.e., Allemande — Courante — Sarabande — Gigue, whereby a pair of Galanteries is inserted between the Sarabande and the Gigue. For the first two Suites (G major, D minor), Bach uses a pair of Minuets, for Suites 3 and 4 (C major, E♭ major), there is a pair of Bourrées, and the last two Suites (C minor, D major) feature a pair of Gavottes each.
In the text below, I’m limiting my comments on the compositions to the contemporary pieces (in the respective sections), but I will not elaborate further on the Suites. These are very well-known, after all.
Prélude — Allemande — Courante — Sarabande — Minuet I/II — Gigue
Just as I remember from Anastasia Kobekina’s 2018 performances: it was a pleasure to watch the artist step up to the stage, fearless, without the slightest sign of nervousness, yet entirely natural and unpretentious. Nothing was put-on, throughout the recitals, there never was any trumping up, her talent and refreshing musicality were obvious and compelling.
From beginning to end, already the Prélude felt absolutely fascinating: a fluent tempo, but highly differentiated in the agogics, dynamics and phrasing. Every half-bar motif was talking in itself, the following echo appeared slightly softer (not exaggerated, just enough to be noticeable). Anastasia Kobekina used a light bow (none of the dense, tight tone in traditional performances), the motifs joined up to beautiful phrasing arches, shaped with subtle dynamics and agogics.
Oh, pure joy—the music was breathing! At a fluent tempo, every phrase was a swaying arch in dynamics and agogics, picking up momentum towards the climax, relaxing again. And this little “miracle moment” when the artist “suspended the final quaver in bar 13, seemed to hold the breath for a moment, then resumed with infinite gentleness. Not just breathing, but breathtaking!
Very light, very fluent, but again speaking through diligently shaped phrases and motifs. Nothing was ever rushed or pushed, but just natural, as the artist’s virtuosity. Never in these recitals, technicalities ever seemed to be an issue!
Another marvelous movement: almost “unusually fast”, but light, not celebrated, again speaking through every chord / motif, and distinctly swaying, as appropriate for a dance movement. Unlike in the fast movements, Anastasia allowed herself some extra ornaments, entirely natural, discreet—not just on the repeat, but already in the first pass, as well as in the second part, which she did not repeat. The fast movements were essentially performed without “extras”, with the one exception of an wextra grace note in the last chord (e.g., in the Prélude and in the Courante).
Of course, I would have loved to see the second repeats being observed in all of Bach’s movements—not just because they are implied in the score, but of course also because it is hard not to ask for more of this beautiful music and performance. However, given the accumulated length of these three recitals, that omission is entirely understandable.
Minuet I / II
Not one of these felt like comfy Minuets—rather true dance movements full of momentum and verve, light, but grippy and vivid in the articulation. The second Minuet (with some nice and fitting extra ornamentation) also was rather fluent—but still retained a more reflective mood. Masterful!
The Gigue followed attacca—light, youthful, joyful, almost whirling—a kind of last dance! It is here where I particularly noted the beautiful acoustics:
The acoustics in the Kirche St.Peter proved ideal for this recital! The Guadagnini cello seemed to fill the nave, the acoustics marvelously supported the sonority of the instrument—yet, there was no excess reverberation that could have veiled the clarity in the cellist’s playing or might have forced her to “sharpen” the articulation. Cello and this venue appeared as an excellent, natural match / mutual complement!
Vladimir Kobekin: Narrenschiff (The Ship of Fools)
A couple of months ago, Anastasia Kobekina sent me a copy of her first CD, released 2018, recorded back in 2016 in Moscow, featuring her performing music by (and with) her father, composer and pianist Vladimir Aleksandrovich Kobekin (Владимир Александрович Кобекин, *1947, see also Wikipedia, better even the Russian Wikipedia).
After 2008, Vladimir Kobekin’s focus moved away from the limelight of opera, ballet and film. (…) In 2018, Vladimir Kobekion wrote “For the last two decades I have been composing a lot for cello and dedicating myself to my wonderful daughter Nastya. She is a wonderful musician, a beauty and, in general, my best creation!” (approximate quote from the liner notes to the CD).
Narrenschiff (The Ship of Fools) is the first composition on the CD that I just referred to, and of course described in my review of that CD, which also explains the medieval trope that the title refers to. Let me just quote: Kobekin’s primary interest was in the idea of two elements (the sea and the fools) colliding: the sea and a clownish dance. Mutually reflecting each other, they create additional meanings.
As Anastasia Kobekina explained in the interview, she first performed this piece on the occasion of her Bachelor’s recital, back in 2015, in Germany.
How can one judge the performance of a piece that her father has dedicated to and written for the artist, into her hands? Anastasia Kobekina obviously has internalized this music. One can see that she lives this piece, even though she refrains from exaggerated gesturer, body language, or facial mimics.
The music itself is a refreshing mix between boisterously provoking medieval melody, rhythm and harmonics in the descant (the fools), and the menacing line with periodic swelling in the bass, depicting the rolling sea, the coming and going of the tidal waves. Catchy music, very pictorial.
Prélude — Allemande — Courante — Sarabande — Gavotte I/II — Gigue
Intensity not through a dense tone / tight bow, but through plasticity in dynamics and articulation. The tempo was again fluent, the flow natural and “speaking”. I really liked how the artist let the central, high climax in bars 68ff “fly off” into the distance, hold off for two tiny moments, then return, more into the foreground again.
Perhaps the most challenging movement in all the cello suites? The difficulty is not technical, but in retaining a dance character despite the slow pace, overfilled with arabesques, detailed down to hemidemisemiquavers. Anastasia Kobekina’s performance was simply excellent. She treated the ornamentation with considerable rhythmic freedom. The artist allowed every bar, every crotchet period to pick up momentum, and to sway out, to allow the following beat to do the same. And the dynamics followed the same pattern, forming little arches in every such period, going through a climax, and ending softly, gently. And yet, she successfully avoided rhythmic and dynamic monotony.
Very fluent, virtuosic, yet retaining a seemingly calm base pace, despite the swaying dance agogics.
Beautiful, this light articulation and (relatively) fluent pace: never did the music appear “celebrated” or “pulled out”—rather, Anastasia once more retained the dance character, and every phrase not only had a climax, but ended lightly, in pp intimacy. Then, this lovely extra arabesque leading back to the repeat of the first part!
Gavotte I / II
After the very lively and light first Gavotte, the musette segment in the second part of Gavotte II felt particularly warm, intimate, comforting.
This movement (once more) was all about its enthralling dance rhythm and youthful expression, the refreshingly fast pace. A fascinating performance, even if it was in danger of losing one or the other detail in some fast passages (e.g., close to the ending of a phrase).
Baroque Playing on a “Modern” Instrument
I must mention that Anastasia Kobekina has largely (and masterfully!) adopted the effect of gut strings and a baroque bow on her Guadagnini cello and Tourte bow. Moreover, her playing in these cello suites was devoid of vibrato, yet never felt “flat”: every tone retained its internal life. And she performed with excellent, if not perfect intonation (which is much harder in the absence of vibrato!).
Undoubtedly, a baroque instrument and bow would further highlight, even enhance the historic aspects in her performance—but even here, she demonstrated a performance at the forefront of the “HIP scene”.
Prélude — Allemande — Courante — Sarabande — Minuet I/II — Gigue
I don’t want to repeat myself: my comments on the performance in the following cello suites are progressively “thinner” than the ones for the first recital part. Mutatis mutandis, one can assume that these apply to all of the Suites.
In many of the interpretations, this Suite appears as predominantly austere, earnest, introverted. In Anastasia Kobekina’s hands, however, this first movement is a calm, reflective play between f and p, between closeness and distance, intensity and intimacy, between retained joy and sorrow: fascinating! I particularly enjoyed how the artist turned the final five chords into a cadenza by filling the long notes with (very fitting) arabesques.
This Allemande could not be more different from the one in Suite No.6! A harmoniously swaying dance full of drive and momentum, building up to a first climax in bar 9. After a short fermata, a virtuosic little arabesque leads to the closing phrase of part I.
Fast, “babbling”, virtuosic—and never superficial: technically superb, always in control, of course, with focus on the long, swaying phrases, rather than on small-scale motifs.
So warm, so full of expression! Rather than focusing on the beauty and perfection of individual tones and motifs, Anastasia Kobekina’s playing was all about the intensity of emotions, the “big breath”. And also here: a nice little, extra couplet when returning to the beginning for the repeat of the first part!
Minuet I / II (— Gigue)
The first Minuet was light, playful, the second one a beautiful contrast: lovely, in its silent, calm, slightly melancholic mood.
Jean-Sélim Abdelmoula: In memoriam
The Swiss musician Jean-Sélim Abdelmoula (*1991) has received his education from notrable teachers at both the HÉMU in Lausanne, as well as at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. For details, teachers, etc., see the artist’s biography.
In parallel to launching a successful career as pianist (now concertizing all over Europe, as well as in North America), Abdelmoula also received awards and high praise as a composer.
Jean-Sélim Abdelmoula created In memoriam after he learned about the death of a close person, while he was staying in Toronto. As the cellist explained in the interview, composing this piece was a matter of two hours only. This was the first time that Anastasia Kobekina presented In memoriam to a public audience.
For this piece, the composer uses a scordatura, requiring the artist to tune the (bottom) C string down by a half-tone, to B, (contra B). In other words: the strings were tuned B, – G – d – a.
In the beginning: an emotional “internal dialog” between percussive bass accents and short motifs in the descant. Flageolet tones changing from intense to ethereal: purity in intonation and articulation, elusive beauty, contrasting with earthly, strong staccato or pizzicato interjections in the bass. Longing, sorrow, sadness, mourning, desperate outcries—and underlying, calm breathing.
All of this with compassion and utter beauty, full of warmth in feelings and melodies, leading into an consoling closure in transfiguration. So extremely touching. And beautiful, in all its sadness and melancholy. Marvelous.
Prélude — Allemande — Courante — Sarabande — Gavotte I/II — Gigue
Among all of Bach’s cello suites, this is the only one requiring a scordatura. In this case, the (top) A string is lowered to G, i.e., by a full tone. Some cellists perform arrangements for standard tuning (C – G – D – A), though this requires altering some of the chords. Needless to say that Anastasia Kobekina chose the historically correct option, i.e., tuning to C – G – d – g.
In the past, I viewed the Suite in C minor as less austere than the one in D minor, but still earnest, introverted, sometimes full of pain and mourning (Sarabande!). Here, however, the Prélude took off at a relatively fluent tempo, with big, swaying gestures, but lightin articulation and ornaments. Anastasia Kobekina kept an eye on the big, overall structure, filled with emotions and musicality.
The fugue part retained the earnest tone, yet added a playful, light aspect—anything but austere, up to the last chord. I really liked that approach, building up to an almost festive, if not (almost) joyful closure!
Also the Allemande felt light, whereby the artist maintained a focus on the melody and the harmonic progression. At the same time, the rhythmically accentuated, but still free-flowing ornaments contributed lightness and the swaying dance character.
Here again, the quaver notes appeared light and enjoyed some rhythmic freedom, hereby again contributing momentum, lightness and dance character.
I didn’t primarily sense pain, but more of a silent, introverted lamentation. The first part reached a point of silent resignation in the mid-point, then brightened up towards the double bar. In contrast, within the restrained character of the movement, the second part went through brief climaxes, a sad one in bars 11/12, and a more confident, optimistic one in bars 17/18, before the phrase appears to vanish, to disappear into the distance. I found this to be a very mature, masterful interpretation.
Gavotte I / II
The Gavottes retained some perseverance and an earnest character, yet also appeared playful, in a light-hearted mood. There was much less of the grumbling darkness that some traditional interpretation imposed on this movement.
Performing all six of Bach’s cello suites in one afternoon (including two instances each of three contemporary pieces) is a huge challenge, both physically, as well as mentally. Needless to say that Anastasia Kobekina performed all cello suites (and her father’s piece) entirely by heart. The only exceptions to this were the contemporary pieces by Jean-Sélim Abdelmoula and Giovanni Sollima (in part 3 of this recital). One could only guess the amount of challenge from signs of releaf (e.g., a deep breath when the applause was setting in) at the end of some of the Suites, particularly towards the end of the afternoon. While she was playing, Anastasia Kobekina never showed signs of exhaustion, let alone distress.
However, one could gather the size of the task of just memorizing all this music from a short memory lapse in bar 49 of the Gigue. The artist kept playing, though, but only recovered at the subsequent climax (bars 55 – 57). It was noticeable, but certainly not a disaster. Anastasia Kobekina obviously wanted to amend the mistake by (for once) doing the second repeat—unsuccessfully, as the same incident happened again. The irritation from the first instance probably did not help. Errors are only human, and to me, that one issue barely impacted the concert experience—I have seen memory lapses on performances with other (top-class) artists, too!
Prélude — Allemande — Courante — Sarabande — Bourrée I/II — Gigue
Albeit it is in a major key, one can often feel some austerity in this Suite. For one, that is a consequence of the E♭ major tonality, which per se is somewhat uncomfortable to play and doesn’t resonate well on the cello strings (C – G – d – a). In addition, the Prélude is full of complex broken chords that are uncomfortable to articulate and play. These and other technical challenges may be the reason why among the six cello suites, this one is not very popular.
The ease and lightness in Anastasia Kobekina’s articulation, the swaying momentum in each of the 8-quaver figures makes one forget about the uncomfiness in this movement. At a larger scale, the big breath, the arches dominated, the pounding bass notes on the first beat in each bar marking the basic, majestic pace, while the quaver figures almost appeared like ornaments. The dynamics, the dramaturgy in this piece were truly masterful (the movement itself of course is a real masterpiece!).
The second half features virtuosic semiquaver chains, which Anastasia Kobekina performed very fluently, with the lightness of baroque fioriture, yet with eruptions of expression in the phrases—prime examples of Klangrede and rich agogics: simply excellent! I can’t remember an interpretation that comes close to this performance!
Beautifully singing in big, fluent arches, flourishing climaxes in the melody—a gem!
The artist’s playful, light performance made one forget about the difficulties of E♭ major on the cello. At most, that tonality may caused sound of the instrument to be a tad “covered” in comparison to “easier” keys such as G major. The joy, the momentum in Anastasia Kobekina’s interpretation prevailed by far.
An excellent opportunity to enjoy Klangrede, expression and emotion—despite the (virtual) absence of vibrato: what a pleasure!
Bourrée I / II
A virtuosic, fast and joyful dance, highly differentiated in the dynamics, and so light in the articulation—as if the artist was using a baroque bow! Bourrée II was merely a short episode—an opportunity to catch some breath before the drive, the momentum of the first Bourrée returned. The last movement followed quasi attacca:
The rolling quaver triplets appear almost breathless (even though of course the phrases were “breathing”)—a true, virtuosic last dance, indeed!
Luigi Boccherini / Giovanni Sollima: Fandango
The Italian composer and cellist Giovanni Sollima (*1962) grew up in Palermo, Sicily, where he also received his musical education. His main cello teacher was Giovanni Perriera (1923 – 1988), while he studîed composition with his father, Eliodoro Sollima (1926 – 2000). Wikipedia states “As a composer, Sollima’s influences are wide ranging, taking in jazz and rock, as well as various ethnic traditions from the Mediterranean area.” I’m not familiar with Sollima’s rich compositorial oeuvre—though I have watched a streamed performance of “Alone” for cello solo (1999), which certainly fits that description.
Luigi Boccherini: Fandango
The piece “Fandango” that Anastasia Kobekina selected for the third part of her recital is not a “fully genuine” composition by Giovanni Sollima, but rather an “arrangement” (a condensation, so to say) of one of the most famous movements by Luigi Boccherini (1743 – 1805).
Originally, Fandango was a lively couples dance from Portugal or Spain. Boccherini composed his Fandango as second movement in his String Quintet (2 violins, viola, 2 cellos) in D major, op.40/2 (G.341, 1798). This movement turned into one of Boccherini’s most popular pieces (and I think it still is a “hit” today!). The composer later used that same material again, as last movement in his Quintet for Guitar, 2 Violins, Viola, and Cello No.4 in D major (G.448). This time, he added an additional introduction, Grave assai, and castanets for the actual Fandango.
Sollima’s transcription is based on the original version of the Fandango. It again works with a scordatura—this time by lowering the (bottom) C string by a full 1.5 tones to contra A, yielding a tuning of A, – G – d – a.
I’m assuming that Boccherini’s enthralling Fandango is known, and hence I won’t spend words on describing that part of the music. Needless to say that condensing five busy voices into one single cello is a matter of impossibility. Rather, Sollima tried distilling out the essence of Boccherini’s music. And, of course, he is adding his own personality and style, using a variety of alienation effects. The result—as far as I can tell—is genuine and typical for Sollima:
At the core is the rhythmic structure of the Fandango, spiced up with (and embedded in) an incredible multitude of effects, such as flageolets, along with pizzicato, percussive sautillé playing, glissando effects, stark contrasts in dynamics and pitch—highly complex both in the mix of rhythm (always with the Fandango as base, of course), utterly wild and enthralling, sometimes eerie, but always genuine, not a caricature.
Sollima hasn’t just condensed Boccherini’s piece onto a single instrument and into half the original duration: rather, by adding his own material, he appears to have doubled the musical content. And the result is fascinating, indeed!
Prélude — Allemande — Courante — Sarabande — Bourrée I/II — Gigue
I hesitate writing this—but let me nevertheless be open here: I really liked all of Anastasia Kobekina’s performance in these three recitals, and I can’t really criticize any aspects of her playing (ignoring the extremely rare mishaps). Yet, somehow, that last cello suite—while still excellent—(to me) seemed the “least rewarding” of the performances overall. This may well just be my personal impression, but there may be more. Let me speculate:
- Did Giovanni Sollima’s wild, enthralling adaptation of the Fandango make it hard to return to “pure baroque” music?
- Were my expectations too high? I remember the artist’s streamed performance of this Suite in Paris last year: this was on a baroque cello, and with a baroque bow. I was absolutely fascinated by her baroque playing in cello suite No.3. In Zurich now, she played on her excellent, but modernized Guadagnini, and with a Tourte bow. Did I inadvertently expect the kind of surprise experience that I had with last year’s recital?
- If it’s not that: is Suite No.3 less suited to demonstrate baroque articulation? My notes from the Paris recital seem to indicate otherwise.
- With the exhaustion from 2.5 hours of solo performance, did the artist (inadvertently, partially) fall back to an level / style of interpretation closer to the time when she learned the piece?
- After the richness of Anastasia Kobekina’s performances in the preceding cello suites, was my mind simply saturated? Could this impression just be a sign of exhaustion on my part, as a listener?
As alluded above: I really liked Anastasia Kobekina’s interpretation, from the first note with the extra mordent (I loved that—an interesting idea!), to the lively agogics and the “speaking” dynamics, and of course with the beautiful sonority of her Guadagnini in the near-ideal acoustics of Kirche St.Peter. Still, in contrast to Anastasia Kobekina’s recital in Paris last year, I now had the impression of this being the most “traditional” or “conventional” interpretation—at least for the Prélude, relative to all of the other cello suites. (★★★★)
In my impression, the Allemande, with its swaying dance agogics, was back to the performance and interpretation level of the preceding cello suites. (★★★★★)
Along with the Allemande, I found Anastasia Kobekina’s performance in this movement the best within this Suite: fast, lively (but not rushed), light articulation, especially in the secondary notes, with discreet focus on the key (melody) notes. (★★★★★)
Very good—though, was it just my impression that here, in this recital, the interpretation showed the least amount of “HIP spirit”? Does it maybe indeed take gut strings, a baroque cello and bow to take this Suite “into the HIP world”? (★★★★½)
Bourrée I / II — Gigue
See above. All of these movements showed verve, demonstrated the artist’s superb, infallible technique, her virtuosity and degree of mastership. (★★★★½)
Anastasia Kobekina briefly explained to me (and a group of young musicians that traveled here to attend the recitals) after the concert, how she came to arrange the six Suites the way she did. I don’t remember every detail, but my take is that she wanted an easy start (No.1) which she combined with the (probably) technically most challenging, No.6. The second recital combined the two cello suites in minor keys (No.2 and No.5), again starting with the easier one (No.2). In the last recital, she decided to start with the more difficult one (No.4), ending with the Suite that she learned first—a safe value, No.3 in C major.
It actually sounds logical and a good idea for this series of three recitals to combine one of the “easier” Suites (1, 2, 3) with a more challenging one (4, 5, 6) for each of the recitals.
Anastasia mentioned that in Spain last year (2020), she performed the cello suites 1 – 4 in the first recital, followed by cello suites No.5 and No.6 in a second recital (the same day). She stated that she found the splitting into three 1-hour recitals (with two Suites each) easier, overall.
Thinking Back About the Paris Recital 2020
I did not record Anastasia Kobekina’s streamed 2020 recital from Paris with the Suites 2, 3, and 6 that I mentioned above. I’m not even sure whether I watched the entire Paris recital. The video / stream seems unavailable now. All I have is a few, sketchy notes that I communicated to the artist. I may even have mixed things up in these notes, but they seem to indicate that she performed the early Suites (definitely No.3 in C major) on a baroque instrument (no endpin, baroque bow), while she played Suite No.6 on her modernized Guadagnini.
My notes indicate how truly fascinated I was by the “proper”, entirely baroque performance (articulation, tone, bowing, etc.) in Suite No.3 (!). And I remember being somewhat taken aback by the “more traditional” (though, of course, still excellent) performance of Suite No.6 on the “modern” Guadagnini cello with a Tourte bow. However, this probably finds an explanation by the fact that performing Suite No.6 on a baroque, 4-string instrument isn’t easily doable, see above.
Summary and Outlook
- In the Paris recital, the performance of the cello suites No.2 and No.3 proved that Anastasia Kobekina is excellent at proper historically informed (HIP) playing on baroque cello, with a baroque bow.
- The Zurich recitals, on the other hand, prove that she is perfectly able to transfer baroque articulation and phrasing to a modern(ized) instrument with Tourte bow.
- The artist is still continuing her studies in baroque playing at Kronberg Academy, so I’m sure that historically informed playing will become even more pervasive than it already is. Excellent perspectives for future encounters!
If any of the above felt remotely critical, please keep in mind that this is “criticism at a luxury level”. The experience over the three recitals has definitely been overwhelming, breathtaking. Anastasia Kobekina’s performances (again) demonstrated not just her technical mastership, but the artist’s immense, innate musicality. My sincere congratulations!
Addendum 1: Narrenschiff
Here is a link / preview to my review of Anastasia Kobekina’s CD featuring her father’s composition Narrenschiff. That article also includes references to two more of her CDs (one orchestral, one with chamber music), both released 2018.
Addendum 2: Reviews from Earlier Concert Performances of Bach’s Cello Suites
- 2016-05-25 (Cello suites 3, 4) — Jonas Iten (*1972)
- 2020-01-21 (Cello suites 2, 3) — Lev Sivkov (*1990)
- 2020-06-28 (Cello suites 1, 3, 6) — Chiara Enderle Samatanga (*1992)