Marrow: The 6 Suites For Solo Cello by J.S. Bach by cellist Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir is her 2nd album on the Sono Luminus label at NativeDSD. Marrow was recorded during the pandemic and features her exploration of Bach’s music.
Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir tells us “There is an Icelandic saying, “mergur málsins”, which directly translates to “the marrow of the matter,” and these Suites, to me, speak directly to the essence of being human. As for many cellists, these Suites have been my steady companion throughout my life with the cello, first as a vehicle to learn counterpoint, style, and harmony, then as material with which to explore personal expression and interpretation, and today they are a mirror, reflecting the deeper truth of the human experience, revealing more layers of meaning each time I come back to them.
As far as we know, these Suites were not written for the church, and by 1720, they were not written for people to actually dance to, but rather as forms with familiar rhythms and style. In contrast to the Violin Sonatas and Partitas which were written around the same time, the Cello Suites each have the same movement structure, which includes a Prelude and two pairs of dances (Allemande and Courante, Sarabande and Gigue) with an added “wildcard” of pairs of Menuets, Gavottes, or Bourées. Rather than hindering expression, this structure seems to enable more creativity to flow, as Bach pushes the boundaries of the expressive and technical possibilities of the instrument with each succeeding Suite.
During the heart of the pandemic of 2020, I found comfort and refuge in these Suites. As I began to play them not just individually but as a set, an arch started to emerge, a true hero’s journey: starting with the innocent 1st Suite in G major, the first taste of bitter disappointment in the d minor 2nd Suite, a renewed optimism in the 3rd Suite in C major, the bold and brash 4th Suite in Eb Major, the dark tragedy of the 5th Suite in C minor, and finally the glorious redemption of the 6th Suite in D Major. My hope in presenting these Suites without repeats is to more clearly illuminate this arch of their presented order so that we may more closely follow this universal storyline.”
Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir, Cello
TracklistPlease note that the below previews are loaded as 44.1 kHz / 16 bit.
Total time: 01:30:02
|Original Recording Format
|October 10, 2023
Can one have too many different performance of the Suites for Solo Cello? Not when they are performed and recorded as nicely as these.
I’ve been listening to several different recordings by Icelandic cellist Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir and I’ve found her to be a most engaging artist. These performances of the Bach Suites are a somewhat different musical setting than in which I’ve been used to hearing her. Most of her other recordings have been music of contemporary composers. This perhaps explains why I have been immediately taken by her approach to these classic Bach pieces—she brings a delightful directness and clarity in her approach. Direct, succinct, but highly communicative. She doesn’t tie herself into endless repeats but plays the pieces “straight through” to achieve a delightful flow and immediacy with the music.
The sound quality is exemplary. Recorded by Daniel Shore in the Sono Luminus recording studio located in rural Boyce, Virginia, in a nearly 110 year old former Emmanuel Episcopal Chapel boasting a 25 foot vaulted wood ceiling over a 35′ x 65′ original heart pine floor, providing a beautiful natural acoustic. Daniel Shore achieves his usual clarity, and exceptionally natural sound, with this recording—always a pleasure hearing his work!
This is a pandemic-born project. Cellist Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir is mostly known for playing contemporary music, but she turned to Bach’s Suites for Solo Cello during the months of enforced isolation.
Her contemporary music background shows in the hard edge of her playing. Another factor shaping her interpretation is that she began to perceive an individual character for each suite: “… an arch started to emerge, a true hero’s journey: starting with the innocent 1st Suite in G major, the first taste of bitter disappointment in the D minor 2nd Suite, a renewed optimism in the 3rd Suite in C major, the bold and brash 4th Suite in E flat major, the dark tragedy of the 5th Suite in C minor, and finally, the glorious redemption of the 6th Suite in D major.”
She omits all of the repeats to bring out this trajectory. It is unlikely that this concept would have made a lot of sense to Bach, but it does produce an unusual set of suites, emotive without being Romantic in the old-style sense. Sample some of the Suite No. 6 in D major, BWV 1012, which does achieve a kind of transcendent quality in Thorsteinsdóttir’s hands.
Another strong point is the sound from the Sono Luminus studios in Virginia. It gives great immediacy to the cellist and fits well with her overall conception of the music. The title “Marrow” comes from an Icelandic expression meaning “the marrow of the matter,” which, for Thorsteinsdóttir, characterizes these suites. She makes a good case for her deep involvement with them and her belief in her unorthodox readings.
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