I wasn't at all sure that I would like Anne Gastinel's interpretations of the Cello Suites having read some reviews, but I tried them anyway and I'm very glad I did because I like them very much. They are slightly eccentric in places but superbly played and very rewarding, I think.
The first thing to say is that Anne Gastinel is a very fine cellist indeed. These are extremely challenging works which demand genuine virtuosity in places, but Gastinel's technique is so good that she seems to move through them with no sense of strain and her playing sounds utterly natural. There is a delightful sense of flow throughout as she is seemingly immersed in and carried along by the music itself – and it's a lovely ride. The sound of her cello is simply fabulous (and beautifully recorded by Naïve) and I often find myself captivated by these performances.
Gastinel's tempi are generally quite brisk and she brings some occasional rhythmic eccentricity to her phrasing which in some recordings I have found intrusive and rather irritating, but here it just seems to work. It sounds absolutely sincere and genuine with no hint of mannered or forced "individuality" being imposed on Bach's music. For example, she skips with the quickest and lightest of touches over the wonderful wide arpeggios in the prelude to the Third Suite, and yet they keep all the moving beauty they have in, say David Watkin's fabulous and much more emphatic interpretation. In the magnificent Sarabande of the Fifth Suite, which Steven Isserlis invests with such spellbinding depth and passion, Gastinel seems to caress the meaning from the music in the tenderest way – and it's just as powerful.
I was genuinely surprised by how much I like these interpretations. I have a lot of recordings of the Cello Suites and I think this stands with the best of them. These things are often a matter of personal taste and preference but I would urge you to give this recording a try. If you find them as enjoyable and rewarding as I do, it will be well worth it.