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.

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