Classical Music

Alisa Weilerstein review – Bach’s cello suites sing and dance, but insights and introspection present too | Classical music

Alisa Weilerstein turned to Bach’s Cello Suites, the high point of her instrument’s solo repertory, for Sunday’s matinee and evening Wigmore concerts. As one might expect, she gave us performances of considerable directness and insight, in which technical prowess and depth of feeling went hand in hand. The music sang and danced, as it should: whatever else they may be, the Suites are, after all, effectively collections of dances. Weilerstein, however, also probed their meaning with great intensity and eloquence.

Much of her interpretation focused on the cycle’s wide emotional range, the patterns of contrast and detail – both between and within suites – that offset their formal perfection and give the overriding sense of diversity within a coherent unity, an impression reinforced, perhaps, by our hearing them in two groups of three.

So her reined-in account of No 2 in D Minor sounded introspective and sombre after the certainties of the First in G, with its famously assertive opening arpeggios, before the clarity of Suite No 3, done with infinite elegance, swept the resulting ambiguities away. The evening concert to some extent repeated and amplified the trajectory: the scampering exhilaration of the Fourth Suite, a real virtuoso tour de force here, gave way first to the austere severity of No 5, then to the expansively beautiful Sixth, which redefines the parameters of all that has gone before.

Like any major performer, Weilerstein is willing to take interpretative risks, and in this instance seemed occasionally prepared to sacrifice clarity to intensity, particularly in swift passages in the cello’s lowest registers. Against that must be set her often remarkable range of colour and extraordinary dynamic control. The double-stopped chords of the Second Suite’s first Menuet, that seem to hector the melody rather than anchor it, was wonderfully done. And the ending of the Sarabande from the Fifth Suite, its final note fading away to silence after the hushed, bleakly expansive melody, sent shivers down my spine. Haunting and mesmerising, all of it.

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