Suspend the memory of your go-to recording of Bach’s Cello Suites and entertain the idea of a performance given in Cöthen by a visiting Italian. In this guise Mauro Valli’s interpretation cascades with the splendour of the Italian style; no repeat is left unadorned and small gestures are as vivid as the emotions frozen in Bernini’s sculptures. But also imagine that Bach’s contemporary performer had visited Paris and you arrive at Valli’s reading, because the French movements shimmer with the gleam of Versailles.
They may seem unlikely bed fellows, but Bach’s Suites follow the key structure of five out of six of Domenico Gabrielli’s dramatic Ricercari for solo cello (likely the first un accompanied works for the instrument). Programmed together, Valli promotes a dialogue of technique and invention – from increased use of both scordatura (de rigueur in Bologna) and the five-string violon cello piccolo, to a reconciled pitch [A=465] that results in Bach’s suites raised to a luminous Italian disposition.
It’s a closely-miked recording, but the generous acoustic at Zürich’s Kirche Neumünster encourages Valli’s chosen textures and sense of poise: for instance his reading of Bach’s Second Prelude – hugely rhetorical and increasingly ornamented until the final bars eschew the usual treatment of broken arpeggios in favour of fizzing Italianate invention. If some times the dances muse rather than take off, the sudden dissonance of an un expectedly unadorned sarabande stops you in your tracks. For all the detail, Valli wears his scholarship lightly and his conviction is catching – reminding us that notions of authenticity are far from tied to a single time and place.