FEATURE REVIEW

JS BACH:
The Six Suites for Solo Cello
BWV 1007-1012
Steven Hancoff, Guitar


Steven Hancoff wrote telling us of his project to record Bach's six solo cello suites on the guitar, implying that completion was imminent. That was three years ago, and only now is the project complete. The intervening time given to study and practice was well spent, for these performances are deeply analytical and thoughtful, with especial awareness of the circumstances of composition.

In 1720 Bach accompanied his then master Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Coethen, to the spa town of Carlsbad for a month. It was only on his return home that he would find his wife, Maria Barbara, dead and already buried. The cello is a very personal instrument, held close to the body, becoming almost a part of the player, an instrument on which Bach may have felt able to express the personal sorrow of his bereavement. Hancoff is acutely aware of this, giving his performances depth yet without sentimentality. The sound is close and clear, with a perfectly judged acoustic, giving an impression of peace and serenity.

Why the guitar? The bows used by Bach's contemporary cellists and violinists were fully capable of playing the chords as written by Bach, using the simple expedient whereby the bow-hairs of an arched bow were held under tension by the player's thumb and relaxed for the performance of chords. The bows used by contemporary string players do not have this capability, so a performance such as Bach himself would have given must be rendered today on the guitar, if the music is to be heard as the composer intended. See
www.baroquemusic.org/barvlnbo.html

The Six Suites for Solo Cello, Steven Hancoff, a 3-CD boxed set. Booklet including notes and numerous contemporary illustrations, many new to us.
www.stevenhancoff.com

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