Bach's Cello Suites from Fretwork's bassist Tunnicliffe As with the Solo Sonatas and Partitas for violin, people tend to ally themselves to one particular recording of the Cello Suites and stick with it for a lifetime, angrily defending it against any upstarts that presume to have anything new to say. This is probably to do with the extraordinary complexity of the internal conversations in all these pieces—the counterpoint yields so many musical discourses that the possibilities for them to mean different things to different people are endless.
In his debut solo disc (strange but true—why has this not happened before?), Richard Tunnicliffe never loses sight of these dialogues and you hear a different one each time you visit it. In fact, this is one of the beauties of the disc—one day it can feel a bit de trop, like a wall of sound presenting the transcendent musical genius of the Suites as mutually exclusive to their ability to move the listener on a human level; another, the warmth of Tunnicliffe's tone and self-evident, painstaking thought behind every phrase can bring you even closer to this beautiful music. In fact, this intellectual connection with the music is the strongest selling point of Tunnicliffe's recording and more than enough to carry you through the (very) occasional hard times when the general sound can feel a bit relentless, the phrases a little too chopped-up to feel the glorious inevitability of Bach's harmonic progression and the fact that, despite their musical gravitas, in the end these are all just dance movements.
The overriding feeling of this collection, though, is of that warmth. You can hear the long, smooth bowing supporting every line like a deep breath holds the words for a singer, yet he still manages to present the lightness of touch and separation of notes that Bach undoubtedly intended for these pieces. He also brings to it the soaring joy it needs, rather than the flat-and-straining timbre so many other recordings have failed to avoid. For those who like their Bach honest and unrefined, this is probably the most appealing recording of these pieces since Anner Bylsma's sublime second version of 1992.