Music Reviews

Review – ‘Bach Suites 1 & 3 For Cello’

Two of the same? Not quite

We have here two versions of the same, offered separately or in a ‘bundle sale’. I don’t think that it has ever happened before. Jake Purches, the producer of these albums, says: “The program is the same … but the interpretation is quite different”. How right he is. At times the difference is even huge like in the Prelude of the Third Suite. Jake continues by saying: “It is interesting to compare the private recording in a house … with the live performance in a church”. And so, we will.
Assuming that a ‘private recording in a house’ is the equivalent of a so-called studio recording with all the facilities that go with it, both versions give the listener a rare chance to find out what many of us already knew: Recordings of live performances have something hard to obtain in a studio. Public presence can induce a considerable degree of inspirational ‘voltage’, whereas the sobriety of a studio delivers more interpretational and tonal perfection, thanks to the possibility of correctional ‘takes’.

There is however another phenomenon to be taken into account. Listening ‘live’ we are lenient and forgiving, which we are not at home. The thrill of ‘live’ is substituted by a desire to enjoy a perfect rendition that can withstand the test of repeated hearing. Two different objectives and we should congratulate Emilia for giving us the unique opportunity to explore and compare such elements.

With the sobriety of the Great Master

So far, Base 2 Music specialized to great acclaim in recording a series of remarkable organs. Now that it seems to be looking further afield I wondered how the Franco-Bulgarian cellist Emilia Baranowska had entered the scene. The answer was simple: She played together with Jean-Paul Imbert (one of Base 2 Music’s organ heroes) the same two Bach Suites on a – as far as I know no longer available – Festivo release (a Dutch label specializing in organ music which is dissolved but still shown on Mme Baranowska’s web site).

Emilia is a gifted musician with a respectable track record. That said, Bach aficionados, having already multiple sets of his Solo Suites on their shelves, will be looking for something that makes her reading stand out from the crowd. What struck me most during my listening tests and comparison sessions, was her style of playing; a style that concurs with the skilled sobriety of the Great Master. It kind of fits in with the chosen surroundings of a village parish church and a room in a stately country house. Though both are distinct, the common denominator is honesty. Emilia Baranowska’s performance is in my view best defined as a genuine display of sincere pureness.

Hall, Studio, or both? That is the question

Choosing between one or the other performance is not easy. What I said before about the venue and its obvious consequences is more or less theoretical and certainly not written in stone. In real life, much depends on an array of variables. In this release the hall is a small village church in the English countryside. The Studio is a room at ‘Burletts’, a West-Sussex country house. Both with their own typical characteristics that might have a bearing on the final outcome.

From the listener’s side there are different factors to consider. For instance, to what extent would one like to have a recording that starts and ends with applause and occasional noise from the audience? Although these are an integral part of ‘live’, they may for some be felt as too intrusive or distracting in the surrounding of a private listening room. As a consequence, the anti-handclappers will want to opt for the country house performance, but will then have to face the choice between surround ‘with’ (church) or stereo ‘without’ (home). A personal matter, no doubt.

At the end of the day, however, answering the question of whether or not to acquire one or both, my suggestion would be: Why not profit from the Bundle Sale? It offers a unique chance to explore a ‘concert of the same, but not quite’. In any case, the sound recording of both is excellent, thanks to Jake Purches’ engineering and Bastiaan Kuijt’s and Tom Caulfield’s mastering.

Blangy-le-Château, Normandy, France.
Copyright © 2023 Adrian Quanjer and

Written by

Adrian Quanjer

Adrian Quanjer is a site reviewer at HRAudio, with many years of experience in classical music. He writes from his country retreat at Blangy-le-Château, France. As a regular concertgoer, he prefers listening to music in the highest possible resolution to recreate similar involvement at home. He is eager to share his thoughts with like-minded melomaniacs at NativeDSD.


No comments yet

Leave a Reply