This is quite exceptional. I confess that I only tried it because it won the 2015 Gramophone Award for Best Baroque Recording; I already had a lot of well-loved recordings of the Cello Suites and didn’t think I needed another. I was completely wrong – this is superb, and a very welcome addition to my collection.
The Suites themselves, of course, are simply magnificent works. They have all the spiritual depth, inventive musical genius and dancing pulse which characterises Bach's work and, well played, I think they get to the very soul of Bach. They are extremely well played here.
David Watkin has been established as a very fine cellist for many years, with a string of excellent recordings to his name. In my view this tops the lot. He has brought something remarkable to these works; his superb technique allows him to get to the core of the music and to play even the most demanding of the movements as naturally as breathing. It's not easy to characterise his approach simply, but it seems to me to have elements both of Fournier's beauty and warmth and also of Isserlis's passion and vigour. Other listeners will make their own comparisons, but it seems to me that there is a sort of completeness here which makes this set so good. As a couple of examples, he Prelude to the Third Suite flows and skips, but those fabulous wide arpeggios still have all their powerful, moving effect and I was absolutely spellbound by the Sarabande from the Fifth Suite. It's a phenomenal movement and I realised that at the end of my first hearing I had been holding my breath for goodness knows how long.
In short, it is plain that Watkin really "gets" Bach and these Suites. There is a combination of scholarship, insight, experience and personal involvement which shines throughout and really allows Bach to speak to us.
I could go on, but this review is probably too long already. The great performances (on two period cellos, one an Amati five-string cello for the Sixth Suite) are beautifully captured in an excellent recording by Resonus Classics (a new label to me) and it's just an all-round brilliant set. Even if, like me, you already have recordings of the Cello Suites which you love I would urge you to try this. There is new beauty and insight here and I can recommend this in the strongest terms. It really is something special.