Pieter Wispelwey's Bach

By Brian McCreath


Cellist Pieter Wispelwey is one of the most fascinating interpreters on the concert stage today. His curiosity and commitment to communicate through music comes through in any music (his 2009 recording of Sir William Walton's Cello Concerto is one that I found to be especially compelling.) But as with so many musicians, J.S. Bach's music seems to bring out an especially soulful, personal approach.

I met with Pieter Wispelwey when he visited Boston in 2012, and in spite of the troubles caused by Hurricane Sandy during that weekend, we persevered and managed to keep our appointment for a conversation about his recording of Bach's Cello Suites. It was worth the effort, to say the least.

Pieter Wispelwey's approach to these works has been forged over many, many years of living with them and even recording them twice before. But, in a reflection of that curiosity that makes his interpretations to magnetic, he "went back to the drawing board" for this most recent recording.

He decided to use a period instrument and bow, a decision that already has numerous implications. Beyond that, though, he also made the decision to tune that instrument to A=392. (The note A above middle C, in other words, vibrates 392 times per second, in contrast to the 440 times per second that most orchestras tune to today.) By tuning to that low pitch, the cello takes on several characteristics unfamiliar to our modern ears, and the results are fascinating.

Another decision Wispelwey made was to invite two Bach scholars to consult with him in the process of performing and recording all six suites. John Butt and Lawrence Dreyfus are two of the most brilliant Bach scholars of our day, and they clearly offered several compelling thoughts to Pieter Wispelwey through the process.

This recording comes in a box with the six suites on two CDs, with a third disc devoted to a video documentary of the project. You can watch and hear the conversation and commentary of Dreyfus, Butt, and Wispelwey, along with some of the performances that took place during the recording.

A preview of the documentary is above, and click on "Listen" at the top of this page to hear the first of several episodes of The Bach Hour that will feature my conversation with Pieter Wispelwey.




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