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FringeReview UK 2019

Pal Banda Bach Cello Suites 1, 5

Pal Banda

Genre: Live Music, Music

Venue: Chapel Royal, North Road, Brighton


Low Down

Pal Banda gave a recital of Bach’ s Cello Suites No. 1 in G, and No. 5 in D minor at the Chapel Royal, Brighton.


Pal Banda gave a recital of Bach’ s Cello Suites No. 1 in G, and No. 5 in D minor at the Chapel Royal, Brighton.


Stephen Isserlis for one propounds a theory that these Suites, like Heinrich Biber’s 15 solo Violin Sonatas, enact a Christian ‘Mystery’, here less overtly labelled. It’s certainly true that Bach’s famous Chaconne in his solo Violin Sonata No. 2 is now read as a mourning arc for Bach’s first wife, with religious overtones. It’s suggested the openly joyful First suite is the nativity, the tragic Fifth the Crucifixion. Certainly it’s a timely reflection for a just-concluded Easter.


Banda’s way at Chapel Royal is to let that resonant acoustic project details he reins beautifully. The First Suite in G BWV1007 genially, wonderingly sounds quiet joy, with tis famous opening arpeggiated chords. Banda here adopts an elegant French tone, or so it seems. Quite lean at the top end, resonant lower down though this suite dwells in higher registers than some.


At this point I was invoking the quintessential French cellist Maurice Gendron. The succeeding Allemande and Courante make this the lightest-actioned suite of the six with a Sarabande being the suddenly slow focal point of Banda’s meditation. Two Menuettes – rather similar to each other – are followed by the standard Gigue – but here one with memorable leaps and a tailing flourish.


This serene Suite gave on to the Fifth, in C minor BWV 1011, and nothing even in Banda’s playing of the First prepared us for it. It’s breathtakingly slow and breathes air from another planet. Guitarist and concert organizer Paul Gregory describes the depth sonority and even sonic blast of an organ in the low start of the Prelude. I’ve heard nothing like it in any playing of any Bach Suite.


Curiously this is the most French of the Suites, though memories of Gendron were in fact banished. Banda carves the Prelude – a French Overture – out of sacramental air and the darkest recesses of the cello’s register and into a single line fugue too – unique in the Cello Suites. Then to the Allemande which here hangs in a world of its own, before the succeeding slightly more buoyant Courante.


Paul Tortelier describes the great Sarabande as an extension of silence and Banda underscores this literally by drawing this out to more than heavenly lengths. It’s like darkness lit up in the Chapel’s raised platform. Here the accented thrill and plangent secrets wrought magnificently to the last mirror Gavottes and Gigue.


I’ve heard no interpretation remotely near it. A recording is in order. It’s to be fervently hoped he’ll return, and one day play the complete cycle.