Tanya Tomkin falls short with Bach

American cellist Tanya Tomkin performance of Bach's Cello Suites needs more zest

Composer: Bach
Repertoire:  Cello Suites
Artists: Tanya Tomkins
Rating:  3/5
Genre: Instrumental
Label: AVIE AV2212

The Music: No manuscript survives; Bach presumably composed the six cello suites at Coethen (1717-23) with the solo violin works and the Brandenburg Concertos. Each contains six national dances (a German Allemand, an English Gigue etc). The last suite is for five-stringed cello but can be played on four. The fifth exists in lute score in Bach’s handwriting and may have come first. The cello version requires tampering – a flattened top string – to be viable.

The Performance: American cellist Tomkins uses two instruments, both tuned at Baroque pitch: an original English cello from 1798 and a modern copy of a Gofriller five-string for No.6. The latter’s sound is thinner, but more vibrant. However, her re-ordering – she runs 3-2-6-5-4-1 – robs the switch of climactic impact. Her opening plunging scale to No.3 is modest and lacks a sense of ‘announcement’. Her speeds are relatively slow and tone coolly academic rather than warm. There is little sense of wonder in her almost offhand account of No.5’s Sarabande, surely the brightest jewel in the crown.

The Verdict: Tomkins is distinctive in choice of cello and pitch but her performances are too short of either dancing zest or affecting emotion to compete with others on the market.

The Alternatives

More Tense
Pablo Casals
EMI CLASSICS 965 9212
The grainy one-mike sound and gripping one-take tension on these historic 1936-39 recordings are deeply moving. Casals prepared them for 35 years before recording.

More Passionate
Steven Isserlis
HYPERION CDA 67541 Isserlis couples
scholarly depth with technical wizardry and exuberant passion. Time stands still at the intensely moving Fifth Sarabande. Supreme recordings.

More Evangelical
Yo-Yo Mas
SONY S2K 63203
Ma focuses on the dance and these recordings are born of collaborations with easy-to-please choreographers. The results are merely adequate.

More Melancholic
Mstislav Rostropovich
EMI Classics 555 3632
Rostropovich responds to the atmospheric location of a French cathedral with performances penetrated by a deep melancholy.

Bach