|REVIEWS: metier msv 28511 Bach Plus|
To reach a wider audience he thought it would be exciting to present them on CD along with Bach's eternal creations, and this issue is a result of this idea. Heinen decided to leave out Bach's Suite #6 as this demands a 5 string instrument with a top E-string and the soloist wanted to perform all the pieces on the same cello (with modern pitch). He also wanted a balanced programme with old and new sounds, so he included two 20 th century classics, Henze's Serenade and Zimmerman's Sonata. This is all exhilarating stuff, passionately performed and superbly recorded.
BIRMINGHAM POST: AN INTERVIEW WITH ULI HEINEN
Only five from the set this time: the sixth suite, which requires a five-stringed cello, proved too impractical for Heinen's current concept, which involves interleaving Bach with solo cello music he has premiered with Birmingham Contemporary Music Group.
Over coffee in his comfortable Harborne home, Uli, co-principal cellist of the CBSO, explains more.
"I don't really like the division in concert-repertoire between 'old' music and new. Now we have so many fantastic period-instruments and period-players, and everything becomes so separate.
"But it goes against my grain because I feel everything is -- he emphasises -- connected musically. Everybody in the main classical and romantic repertoire has learned from Bach, and everybody else has learned from those composers again, and everything is interconnected!
"So I wanted to play on the same cello and with the same modern pitch, those Bach cello suites and the contemporary pieces. I wanted to bring the old more into the new world, and bring the new world more into connection with the old."
We go on to discuss the way articulation of these Bach pieces has changed over the years, from the seamless phrasing of the great cellist Pablo Casals to the scholarly Anner Bylsma in performance, and how it is still changing today. And how the French fashion of notes inégales (a shift of rhythm in linked scale-wise pairs of notes, and, in Uli's thinking, possibly implied by Bach in this music) might even perhaps have permeated through into New Orleans jazz, that city with three centuries of French tradition behind it.
Bach didn't write out such rhythmic shifts in his scores, "but his professional players who had gone into every scholarly aspect of performance would have been insulted if he'd written out these inégales, because they would have said, 'we know all about that, don't treat me like an idiot!'", Uli laughs.
After a lifetime performing these pieces, with movements which are based on baroque dances, Ulrich Heinen last year decided to research even further into their background., and was helped by Nicholas McGegan (a conductor well-versed in baroque practice, and a well-loved guest on the CBSO podium).
"He put me on the right track, and the right literature, and I found lots of books, written at that time, about court dance.
"Court dance was very widely represented in European courts, and it was all French, since the dominance of Louis XIV, who was a very decent dancer himself ever since he was still a child.
"So court dance became the most superior art-form of all, and there wasn't a court in Europe where there wasn't a French dancing-master. You couldn't learn from books, you had to have a personal trainer!
"Therefore I concluded that all professional musicians would have had first-hand knowledge of how dances were performed, and if they saw a piece of music based on those steps, it would immediately click with them."
Uli's research led him to realise that certain passages in the Bach Cello Suites actually did reflect important steps within the dance in question -- opening courtesies, intricacies of footwork, even the point where in processional dances the couples changed direction and turned back up the hall.
"And in the timing of the thing, you play differently at such places, instead of sticking to the tempo you set at the beginning."
Comparisons with all the suites and partitas Bach composed -- for orchestra, keyboard, flute, violin, cello -- lead Uli to declare that those for cello "are more descriptive of dance than all the others, and I'm not the only one to think so!
"When you look at the French and English Suites for keyboard, they are so artful and complicated as compositions that it's very difficult to tell what dance they actually are. But the cello suites are more closely related.
"I wonder if the low harmonic frequencies of the instrument led Bach to feel it's more body-language than brain-language. The high pitch of a violin appeals to our intellect, whereas the low frequencies of a cello or a bass, you feel it resonates with the body."
And we refer to the bass-driven dance-music of the club scene today, which seems to prove Uli's point.
The conversation continues in fascinating intricate detail about "older" and "modern" dances in the baroque period, much as the same as we find a mix of the conventional and the new in Strictly Come Dancing, but we conclude with a discussion of Uli's forthcoming solo appearance with the CBSO.
Well, not quite a solo appearance. as he is performing in Brahms' Double Concerto for Violin and Cello, partnered by CBSO concertmaster Laurence Jackson, next Wednesday afternoon and Thursday evening.
"I'm so excited! I love this piece, I think it's one of the great masterpieces, though somehow it's not that much present in the repertoire.
"The thing is, you can practise your part as much as you like, but you still can only really practise together, because it's like a dialogue." Then we go on to enthuse about an ancient BBC television relay of a performance of the Brahms featuring the violinist David Oistrakh and the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. "Incredible" is the word we both use.
And looking further ahead, Ulrich Heinen is preparing to put on a jazz hat for a lunchtime concert with his pianist son Bruno and CBSO bassist Mark Goodchild, when Stockhausen (a nod to Uli's passion for contemporary music) will rub shoulders with Miles Davis, Duke Ellington and others.
"I'm not a jazz player, so I don't quite know what I'm going to do yet!"
INTERNATIONAL RECORD REVIEW:
If you are going to record the first five Cello Suites, why not record the last one too? Heinen explains, ‘Since I wanted to play all compositions on the same cello (at modern pitch) I decided to leave out Bach's Suite no. 6, as it asks for a 5-string cello with a top E-string.' That is more Catholic than the Pope; of course a multitude of cellists have recorded all six suites without ruining either their instruments or (one assumes) their scruples. As a result, this is a frustrating release for those whose primary interest is Bach. I don't think ‘Bach+' is meant for them anyway. Looking at it the other way around, anyone whose primary interest is in the other five works shouldn't need to acquire then with an incomplete and not quite top-flight recording of Bach's Cello Suites. There are other recordings of the Henze and Zimmermann, and Heinen himself has recorded Holt's Feet of Clay for the NMC label. In other words, despite the contemporary focus, only Skempton's Six Figures (6'19”) and Barry's Triorchic Blues (4'45”) are completely new to CD.
Heinen is a 60-something cellist born in Bonn who studied at the Cologne Conservatoire with Siegfried Palm, one of contemporary music's most sympathetic cellists, and at Juilliard with Leonard Rose, whose repertory was more conservative. (Could this explain this release's surprising juxtapositions?) Heinen moved to England in 2984 and became principal cellist of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Three years later he founded the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, no doubt facilitating contact with the three English composers represented here, and others. He plays a Giovanni Grancino cello from 1722, and its fine sound has been captured with realism by engineer Chris Marshall.
As I suggested above, Heinen's near-traversal of the Bach would not be my first choice. Although there are things I like about it – the music usually dances when it needs to, as can be heard in Heinen's stirring account of the Third Suite's Gigue, for example – there are things about it that threaten not to wear well over time. Foremost among these are what strikes me as just too much staccato articulation, and phrasing that sometimes sounds affected. In general, the quicker movements move forward with involvement, but Heinen doesn't maintain the tension in the Sarabandes, for example, and the music sags. I think many listeners will know how they fell about Heinen's Bach after hearing the prelude to the First Suite. He plays it in 1'59”, faster than any other cellist in my collection, and he sounds too enamoured of the music's patterns, missing the emotional warmth that Ma and Fournier, to cite just two alternatives, bring not just to this movement, but to all six suites.
The desirability of ‘Bach+', then, really depends on the ‘+'. The works by Henze and Zimmermann are worthwhile, although the latter's Sonata, composer in 1960 using serialist techniques, now feels dated. Thomas Demenga's recording (also paired with Bach!) shaves almost two minutes from Heinen's total timing and sounds more fluid and fluent. The ECM disc is more atmospherically recorded as well. Skempton's Six Figures is music in the composer's best shorthand – scarcely has it begun when it comes to an end. It is child's play compared to Holt's Feet of Clay , which the composer, in his contribution to the booklet notes – Heinen speaks for Henze and the dead composers,and the other three speak for themselves – describes as having a ‘strong sense of the heroic'. It is a dramatic, agitated work and at one point the cellist is even asked to whistle.
Barry's Triorchic Blues (which also exists in versions for other instruments) alludes to ‘a rumored attribute of the castrato Tenducci… that enabled him to surprise his admirers by combining the role of paterfamilias with his operatic career'. Unless I misunderstand, Triorchic Blues , then, is probably the work to be named after the phenomenon of possessing three testicles. The music sounds nervous – understandably – and I cannot refrain from calling Heinen's performance of it ‘ballsy'