Alban Gerhardt looks as if he's hewn from granite in Adam Markowski’s superb cover photograph here. Even his Matteo Goffriller cello looks like it's been through the wars. Gerhardt tells us in his foreword that he’d originally refused to record the six Bach Suites before he turned 50, then realised that the date was fast approaching. He's disarmingly honest about the difficulties of playing these pieces now, notably in terms of how much notice to take of historically-informed performances. Plus, there's how to balance vibrato and articulation without annoying the recording engineer. I'm making this set seem like Gerhardt's response to a midlife crisis, but it's nothing of the sort. Much as I like a bit of introspection in solo Bach, I prefer it when the performer makes eye contact and tosses us the odd wink. Gerhardt does that: play the CDs at a healthy volume and he's right there, in the room. It's uncanny.
Gnarlier movements like the gritty prelude to Suite No 5 are thrillingly accessible. Gerhardt's cello speaks like a wise old bloke sat in a cosy pub, one who chooses his words wisely. When he's in full flight he's utterly compelling. Witness the startling opening to Suite No 3 once the pounding pedal Gs begin, Gerhardt turning the screws until the C major cadence offers delicious, welcome relief. The same suite’s sarabande is heart-stopping. There’s never a dull moment: these are humane, deeply thought performances captured in glowing sound.