Listening Room

03 Ornamented BachGoing Off Script – The Ornamented Suites for Cello, JS Bach
Juliana Soltis
King Street Records KING001 (julianasoltismusic.com)

Listen

Suite No. 1 in G Major BWV 1007 - Courante

Suite No. 3 in C Major BWV 1009 - Sarabande

Suite No. 6 in D Major BWV 1012 - Gavottes 1 & 2

Video

Read the Review

The following review is an excerpt from Editor's Corner (October 2019) which can be read in its entirety here.

I must admit I was a little wary when I first heard about Going Off Script – The Ornamented Suites for Cello, JS Bach (King Street Records KING001) from Baroque cellist Juliana Soltis (julianasoltismusic.com). My general feeling is that masterworks don’t need any improving or personalizing; that it is incumbent on the performer to do their best to realize the composer’s intent as written on the page. I learned during my many years at New Music Concerts just how important it is to bring the composer to work with the musicians, to ensure that those intentions are being respected. Of course that is not possible in the case of composers no longer with us, but there is a long history of interpretation and scholarship that tells us what those marks on the page mean and how they should be treated. Soltis addresses this in her very personal notes to the recording. “As musicians, we spend years learning to decipher and interpret these instructions, and as with any good recipe, we trust that everything we need to know is there. But what if we’re missing something?” She goes on to say “…those instructions – the pitches and rhythms, the harmonies and articulations – are but a starting point, a simple framework crowning Bach’s instruction.” The booklet includes some graphic illustrations using fragments of the score of the first suite, with which Soltis makes a case for the “spaces,” created by tied or dotted notes, actually being an invitation to “improvise here.” Realizing that Bach was a renowned improviser – think of the spontaneous origins of The Musical Offering – I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. I am pleased to report that I was not disappointed. Her interpolations are unobtrusive and, as far as I can tell, idiomatically sound and consistent with the spirit of the pieces. Much closer to that spirit than, for instance, the larger-than-life flourish with which Misha Maisky ended the first suite on his 1985 recording of the cycle. To quote Soltis again, “…whenever I thought about the incredible chorus of voices and versions that is the Recorded Bach Cello Suites, I knew that I didn’t want to join in that particular conversation unless I had something important to say. And for the longest time I wasn’t sure that I did.” We can be thankful that she changed her mind and has given us the chance to appreciate her thoughtful interpretation.

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