“If I don’t feel too good,” writes Swiss cellist Thomas Demenga, “I go to my studio and play one or two suites – it’s a mental cleansing process.”
Plenty of musicians turn to Bach for solace or recalibration; the question is, who can translate that personal connection into something usefully meaningful to other people?
Swiss cellist Thomas Demenga was born in 1954 in Berne. He studied with Walter Grimmer, Antonio Janigro, Leonard Rose and Mstislav Rostropovich, among others. Important chamber music influences were Claus Adam, Felix Galimir and Robert Mann at the Juilliard School in New York.
As an internationally renowned soloist, composer and teacher, Thomas Demenga is one of the most outstanding cellists of our time. He has performed at important festivals and concert venues around the globe and shared the stage with musicians such as Heinz Holliger, Gidon Kremer, Thomas Larcher and Thomas Zehetmair. He has worked with conductors including Charles Dutoit, Claus Peter Flor, Heinz Holliger, Mstislav Rostropovich, Dennis Russell Davies, Wolfgang Sawallisch and Sándor Végh. (ECM bio of Thomas Demenga)
Swiss cellist Thomas Demenga returns to Bach’s suites. “To me, Bach is the greatest musical genius who has ever lived. His music is pure, sublime. It possesses something divine and each musician has a lifetime in which to discover new ways of interpreting it.”
Demenga previously recorded the cello suites for ECM between 1986 and 2002, juxtaposing them with contemporary composition in albums that count as milestones in the early history of the New Series. This new double CD however is devoted entirely to Bach and the six suites. Many years of playing and studying every aspect of them, from source manuscripts to different tempos, embellishments, fingerings and bowings, have brought Demenga to the heart of the music. (Proper Music review)
Manfred Eicher’s ECM label, with its mystical, inward uses of sound, is so well fitted to Bach’s unaccompanied music for cello or violin that one may even be surprised that the label has not issued more recordings of this repertory.
The sound on this recording of Bach’s six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello, from a live recording at the Hans Huber-Saal in Basel, is all that could be desired, bringing you up close to the cello of Swiss player Thomas Demenga without losing you in a swirl of echoes or extraneous cello noise.
What’s ironic is that Demenga’s readings are anything but inward. If you’re attached to the idea of the solo cello suites as murmurings of the inner soul, the album may not be for you.
Demenga uses a Baroque bow and deploys the added fluency it allows in the service of lightness and a free dancelike quality. He correctly asserts, and backs up his assertion in his playing, that these suites are indeed suites of dances, but he also applies ornaments and a bit of rubato, neither to an extreme. (AllMusic Review by James Manheim)
Demenga’s s not shy of decorating Bach’s lines and tugging them about; he pushes and circles and skits so that even the profound Sarabandes trot along at a wilful clip. The cello sound is beautiful for its grit, grain and sinew, and the fact that this recording was done live in concert means we get exciting squalls, adrenaline and spontaneity. (Review – “extrovert Demenga shows grit and sinew” by Kate Molleson)