Suite Cubed: Bach and Beyond by Umberto Clerici
Cellist Umberto Clerici wondered how eighteenth-century audiences listened to J.S. Bach’s cello suites, and what they heard and recognised in the music. Although Bach’s solo cello suites are variations of dance forms, he did not write them for dancing. Audiences perhaps experienced an emotional connection to the ‘stylisations’ of each dance, and (perhaps) therefore a physical connection. Contemporary audiences hear, experience and feel that music in a different way – our familiarity with common dance forms and dance traditions has been lost. Clerici has reframed Bach’s solo cello suites for a contemporary audience, taking the keys of C and D and structuring two new ‘suites cubed’. Bach’s music is at the centre of each suite, with additions from composers past and present. Antonio’s Ricercata XI predates Bach’s cello suites, and Giovanni Sollima’s Alone is not yet 20 years old. While Clerici has preserved the traditional ‘bipartite’ fast/slow and major/minor structures, he takes us on a colourful and imaginative journey through the solo cello repertoire, demonstrating his instrument’s full array of dissonances and textures.
Clerici is a magnificent cellist and musician. If a musician’s worth can be judged on how well he performs Bach, then Clerici has already excelled. The opening Prelude from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 6 has all the passion, energy and grit one might hope to hear – he certainly does not approach this music with caution! However, it’s Clerici’s performances of the contemporary compositions that I really enjoy. There is something almost violent about the way he attacks the opening of Ligeti’s fiendishly difficult Capriccio, which is in complete contrast to the following Langsam from Hindemith’s Sonata for Cello. Here, Clerici’s long, drawn-out lines are luscious and romantic, and he revels in Hindemith’s unsettling harmonies. Suite Cubed is a bold, exciting, and inspired exploration of solo cello repertoire.
Alexandra Mathew is from Readings Carlton.