Matthew Bourne

Matthew Bourne

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Johann Sebastian Bach: 6 Suites for Cello Solo, BWV 1007-1012 – István Várdai (Audio video)






















In May 2014 the Hungarian cellist István Várdai performed three Bach Suites at an unusual venue in New York: not the storied glamour of Carnegie Hall or the hip 92st St Y, but the Board of Officers Room in the recently renovated Armory on Park Avenue, a room no less redolent of distinguished history: to which he made his own distinguished contribution according to the New York Times, with a recital which concluded with a "superb" performance of the Sixth Suite.

Having just turned 30, Várdai has accumulated a string of impressive competition successes including first prize at the Geneva International competition and the prestigious ARD cello competition in Munich, as well as special prize at the Kronberg Academy's annual competition. Now, therefore, is as good a time as any to put down his thoughts on every cellist's Old Testament with his superb 1720 Montagnana instrument, which he also uses for the Sixth Suite, originally conceived by Bach for a five-stringed instrument such as the viola da spalla or violoncello piccolo.

"Mr. Várdai's trills", continued the New York Times review, "unfolded with elegant grace in his soulful rendition of the Allemande, and the Courante flowed with a joyous energy. Throughout the evening, he imbued the Suites with an essential pulse and rhythmic vigour that respected the dance origins of the movements".

Just last November he returned to the city, and the more conventionally prestigious venue of the Weill Recital Hall (part of the Carnegie Hall complex) for a recital of mostly Romantic repertoire with his fellow Hungarian, the pianist Zoltán Fejérvári. This time the reviews were no less enthusiastic: "István Várdai clearly can do many things so well", reported the critic of Seen and Heard, "and has a sensitivity, command and tonal lustre that are thoroughly distinctive. In some ways, he can seem to be a very tight, agile cellist yet he moves so compellingly into expressive and tonal breadth as well... It was all pretty special".

Bach's iconic Solo Suites form the pinnacle of the entire cello repertoire, the ultimate challenge and a Mount Everest every young and aspiring cellist has to climb, no matter how often that has already been done.

Young Hungarian cellist István Várdai is winner of the Geneva Competition, 3rd prize Tchaikovsky Competition 2007 and first prize winner of the prestigious ARD competition in 2014. He embarked on a successful international career, having played with Mikhael Pletnev, Adám Fischer, Zoltán Kocsis, and chamber music partner of Gidon Kremer, Mischa Maisky, Elisabeth Leonskaja, Andras Schiff, Klára Würtz and many others. He is a regular guest at international music festivals, notably Verbier.

Source: brilliantclassics.com



Ακρογωνιαίος λίθος του ρεπερτορίου για βιολοντσέλο, οι Έξι Σουίτες, BWV 1007-1012, του Γιόχαν Σεμπάστιαν Μπαχ, ερμηνεύονται από τον τριαντάχρονο βραβευμένο Ούγγρο τσελίστα István Várdai. Η ηχογράφηση έγινε στις 29 και 30 Μαρτίου 2016, στο Παρεκκλήσι της Μονής των Καπουτσίνων, στο χωριό Velp του δήμου Grave της Ολλανδίας, και κυκλοφόρησε σε ψηφιακό δίσκο από την Brilliant Classics το 2017. (Ο István Várdai παίζει ένα βιολοντσέλο Montagnana του 1720.)


Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

♪ 6 Suites for Cello Solo, BWV 1007-1012 (1717-1723)

Suite No.1 in G major, BWV 1007 [00:00]*
i. Prélude
ii. Allemande
iii. Courante
iv. Sarabande
v. Menuet I & II
vi. Gigue

Suite No.3 in C major, BWV 1009 [17:33]
i. Prelude
ii. Allemande
iii. Courante
iv. Sarabande
v. Bourrée I & II
vi. Gigue

Suite No.5 in C minor, BWV 1011 [39:33]
i. Prelude
ii. Allemande
iii. Courante
iv. Sarabande
v. Gavotte I & II
vi. Gigue

Suite No.2 in D minor, BWV 1008 [1:04:17]
i. Prelude
ii. Allemande
iii. Courante
iv. Sarabande
v. Menuet I & II
vi. Gigue

Suite No.4 in E flat major, BWV 1010 [1:23:12]
i. Prelude
ii. Allemande
iii. Courante
iv. Sarabande
v. Bourrée I & II
vi. Gigue

Suite No.6 in D major, BWV 1012 [1:47:49]
i. Prelude
ii. Allemande
iii. Courante
iv. Sarabande
v. Gavotte I & II
vi. Gigue

István Várdai, cello

Recording: 29-30 March 2016, Chapel of the Capucin Convent Velp, Grave, Netherlands

Brilliant Classics 2017

(HD 1080p – Audio video)

* Start time of each Suite


István Várdai
















One of the happiest periods of Johann Sebastian Bach's life was the seven years (1717-1723) when he lived and worked in Cöthen. He subsequently moved to Leipzig with his wife and children, becoming cantor of the Thomaskirche and writing his now world-famous passions and hundreds of cantatas. This is our most familiar picture of Bach. Much of his chamber music, however, was composed in Cöthen, where Bach was chapelmaster of the court orchestra of Prince Leopold von Anhalt-Cöthen, a fanatical music lover of only 23 years of age. The prince spent no less than a quarter of his court finances on music and often joined his virtuoso musicians on the violin, viola da gamba or harpsichord. We would probably have forgotten the prince entirely had his court not been the setting for the composition of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, the Well-Tempered Clavier part 1, the Sonatas and Partitas for violin solo, the Suites for cello solo and other chamber music.

One of the virtuosos employed by Prince Leopold was the celebrated viol player and cellist Christian Ferdinand Abel. Bach is presumed to have written his six Suites for solo cello for him, since the composer makes extreme demands, if not requiring the impossible, of both cello and cellist. Many passages, particularly the many double stoppings, cannot be executed literally. In the Suites for solo cello, as in the Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin, Bach pursued hitherto untrodden paths. He achieved the very greatest effect with the very smallest means, turning an obstacle race into a display of grandeur. As an instrumentalist to the back-bone, Bach pushed forward the boundaries of performance practice by exploiting to the full the specific possibilities of the cello. These Suites, with their improvisational adventures, strict imitative excursions, rhythmic flair and for the time unequalled virtuosity, are in every sense the equal of Bach's keyboard works of the same period.

Furthermore, within his oeuvre they form a group of compositions in their own right, in which he succeeded, with all the means offered by the instrument but without the accompaniment of a basso continuo, in creating genuine polyphony and harmony. Bach's Suites present an absolute standard, a standard which had to be measured up to by composers including Reger, Hindemith, Ysaÿe, Kódaly, Bartók, Honegger and Ligeti when they composed for solo cello.

Unlike the works for solo violin, all six Cello Suites have a similar structure. They commence with a prelude, followed by an allemande, courante, two French dances ("galanteries") and a gigue. The First Suite in G major begins with a genuine prelude with "perpetual motion" in semiquavers, employing arpeggio and scale motifs. Bach builds the tension up until the very end, culminating in the widely spread final chord with a high g. The prelude is followed by an allemande, pacing forward regularly, and a courante, highly virtuosic despite its single voice. The small-scale sarabande is a fine example of classical structure, with two phrases of eight bars each. After two simple menuets, employing material reminiscent of the prelude, the Suite ends with a whirling gigue.

Darker and more dramatic is the Second Suite in D minor. The prelude and allemande offer more rhythmic variety than the corresponding movements in the First Suite. Wonderful chords and a dark timbre lend the sarabande great profundity. The menuets provide a strong contrast. The first is in D minor and has such robust chords that it is hardly a "galanterie". The galant second menuet is in the sunny key of D major. The same sturdy character permeates the concluding gigue.

In the opening of the magnificent prelude to the Third Suite in C major, a descending scale and broken chords are the broad brush strokes used to establish the key. The exciting semiquaver movement set in motion here culminates in a long pedal point, the bass note G which is repeated for no less than seven bars. The prelude is followed by a beautifully ornamented, noble allemande, followed by a fast pendant in the form of the courante, the French dance which runs along so agilely but surprises us with all sorts of risky melodic leaps. Slow once more is the dignified, striding sarabande with its wonderful double stoppings. Perhaps the most familiar movements are the two bourrées, originally French country dances, with their appealing and sweeping melodies. The Suite ends with an English jumping dance, the gigue, larded with virtuosic effects and awkward handfuls of notes.

The Fourth Suite commences with a most spectacular prelude: 48 bars of continuosly tumbling arpeggios are brought to an end only by a pause, followed by a long garland of semiquavers. More pensive is the prelude to the Fifth Suite in C minor. It is the only prelude of the six to comprise two contrasting halves, first a dark, improvisational section and then a fugal passage which constitutes a wonder of "single-part polyphony". In order to accomodate double stoppings and create a particularly dark colour, Bach requires the highest A string to be tuned down to G. The recalcitrant Sixth Suite in D major was written for an instrument with five strings, the viola pomposa. In size this instrument occupies a place between the cello and viola; above the customary high A string it has an E string. In the lengthy prelude the uninterrupted 12/8 movement maintains the tension from beginning to end. It is followed by the most richly ornamented and broadly sweeping allemande of the series of six. More streamlined and straightforward is the transparent and singlevoiced courante, after which the sarabande indulges once more in an ingenious chordal style. The customary two menuets between the sarabande and gigue are replaced here by gavottes.

Source: Clemens Romijn


Photo by Balázs Böröcz
István Várdai, the 30 year old Hungarian cellist was honoured with several prestigious international prizes: in 2008 he won the 63th Geneva International Music Competition. He took the third prize of the International Tchaikovsky Music Competition, Moscow, in 2007. In 2006 he was awarded with the special prize of the Emanuel Feuermann Cello Competition at the Kronberg Academy and received first prize at the 13th International Brahms Competition in Austria. He was winner of the David Popper International Music Competition three times (2000, 2003, 2004). In 2012 he received the prestigious Prix Montblanc awarded to the world's most promising young musician. In 2014 he won the prestigious ARD Cello Competition in Munich.

Since his debut concert in 1997 in The Hague, he has performed in New York, Washington, Vancouver, London, Paris, Prague, Vienna, Frankfurt, Munich, Geneva, Dublin, Moscow, St Petersburg, Florence, Tokyo, Beijing with great success. In 2010 he made his debut, among others, in Carnegie Hall and the Wiener Konzerthaus. Along his starting career, he played with world-famous musicians and orchestras: András Schiff, Yuri Bashmet, Zoltán Kocsis, Gidon Kremer, Tabea Zimmermann, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, St Petersburg Symphony Orchestra, Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra, Suisse Romande Orchestra, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Geneva Chamber Orchestra, Irish Chamber Orchestra,, American Symphony Orchestra. He has been invited to Santander Festival, the Gergiev Festival in St Petersburg, the Casals Festival (Spain), Festival of Radio France (Montpellier), Bellerive Festival (Switzerland), Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival, Verbier Festival, West Cork Chamber Music Festival, Schwetzingen Festival and the Budapest Spring Festival.

From 2004 István studied in the Class of Special Talents at the Liszt Academy in Budapest, from 2005 at the Music Academy of Vienna. Between 2010 and 2013 he continued his studies at Kronberg Academy in Germany From 2013 he is on the staff of the famous Academy. His first album containing pieces of Janáček, Prokofiev and the Elgar cello concerto was released in 2009 by Ysaÿe Records. In 2010 he recorded the cello concerto of Johann Baptist Vanhal. On his album released by the Hännsler label in 2013 he plays works by Mendelssohn, Martinů, Paganini, Beethoven and Popper. His album with both versions of Tchaikovsky's Rococo Variations was released in 2014, his most recent album (Singing Cello – Hungaroton) in 2015. Mr. Várdai is, together with violinist Kristóf Baráti, artistic director of the Kaposfest International Chamber Music Festival in Hungary. He plays a Montagnana cello from 1720.


Istvan Vardai played Bach's Cello Suites at the Park Avenue Armory's Board
of Officers Room. Photo by Tina Fineberg

















See also

Johann Sebastian Bach: Cello Suite No.4 in E flat major, BWV 1010 – Peter Schmidt

Johann Sebastian Bach: Cello Suite No.3 in C major, BWV 1009 – Peter Schmidt

Johann Sebastian Bach: Cello Suite No.2 in D minor, BWV 1008 – Peter Schmidt

Johann Sebastian Bach: Cello Suite No.1 in G major, BWV 1007 – Peter Schmidt

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