Richard Narroway’s wide musical vision

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In a boldly self-asserting move, the young Australian cellist Richard Narroway has recorded all six of the Johann Sebastian Bach Cello Suites. The double CD (SLE-70010) is being released later this month by Sono Luminus www.sonoluminus.com.

The Six Cello Suites come carrying some good, some odd musical vibes. They have caused much discussion among musicologists, much of it pointless. Their provenance has been questioned. They have been distorted beyond recognition in versions for piano, string instruments, marching band, euphonium and tuba. They have been transcribed for orchestra. It wouldn’t be surprising if one of these days we encounter a section from one of them playing in the background, while someone tries to sell us something on TV. Or have they already?

It is refreshing to have all of that bad baggage offset by the impassioned cellist Richard Narroway, a purposeful Australian musician who, with his wide musical vision neither plants his flag in the overworked ground of the historically accurate performance camp nor on the safe opposite side of that musical fence. By that we mean that he plays the music decisively, elegantly, accurately, respectfully but searching not for the “right way” but for his own way of playing six works written nearly three hundred years ago.

Ornamentation and style are observed by Narroway, executing long slurs whenever the music’s long cascades of notes  calls for slurring with the bow with which he plays his 1930 Carl Becker cello. He never errs on the side of caution but neither does he slip up by using too much vibrato. Most importantly Narroway’s playing is always infused with a perfect mix of a warm hearted musicality and a cool head, an indispensable combination much needed to tackle these six monumental works.

Narroway’s technique never calls attention to itself, not even when he is called upon to negotiate daunting technical hurdles planted along the way by a composer who knew what he was up to, except that he did not give much thought as to how the future interpreters of this music would go about playing it.

Was it perhaps that Bach was writing for a different instrument, the so called “voloncello da spalla”, a hybrid not anchored between the player’s legs upon the floor but an oversized contraption to be held on the player’s lap and played with a huge bow with which one could go hunt wild game? Go figure.

The Bach cello suites have become a calling card for the greats of the cello since Casals disinterred them early in the 20th century. Since then the Catalan poet of the cello passed on the mantle to Tortellier, he to Janigro, he to Rostropovich and they in turn willed it to Du Pre and she to Lynn Harrell and Harrell to Yo Yo Ma. Look up Johann Sebastian Bach Cello Suites on line and you shall find dozens of recordings, most of them very good. Here we have not merely another fine one, but a very fine one by an immensely gifted young musician soon fit to keep company with some of the greats that preceded him.

Rafael de Acha  www.Rafael’sMusicNotes.com All About the Arts

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