Peter Stumpf’s Bach: Warmly Communicative and Technically Close to Impeccable

14/02/2017

Bach: Peter Stumpf (cello), Benjamin Franklin Hall, American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, 12.2.2017. (BJ)

Bach – Cello Suites Nos.1-6, BWV 1007-1012

Bach’s solo cello suites constitute one of the most fiendish challenges for any cellist’s technique and artistry, but you would not have guessed that from this Philadelphia Chamber Music Society recital. Peter Stumpf made the music sound easy to play, and he also made it sound unmistakably like music.

Among all the interpreters of Bach’s unaccompanied string-instrument music I have encountered, it was a violinist that Stumpf’s playing most vividly reminded me of: his performance revealed the same sense of directness and honesty as used to characterize Arthur Grumiaux’s playing of the solo sonatas and partitas. Standing somewhere between historically informed practice and the romanticism that must surely inform all performances of the emotionally charged music of Bach, the two men’s stylistic approach could be called “middle of the road” – not, however, in any way implying dullness, but rather signaling the total absence of distracting eccentricity. Nor, it is good to report, was there the slightest trace of eccentricity or self-advertisement about Stumpf’s stage presence, which was at once unmannered and warmly communicative.

From the technical point of view, Stumpf’s command of the many rapid figurations was close to impeccable. The frequent multi-stopped chords shone with an airy clarity that can only be achieved through unerring accuracy of intonation. Musically, the effect of such mastery was to illuminate and enhance the contrasts of mood among the various movements. Alternations between light-as-a feather staccato and a smooth legato heightened the sheer playfulness of some of the courantes and gigues. Occasional pauses on long notes, moreover, never damaged the continuity of rhythm but served, if paradoxically, to emphasize the dance character fundamental to most of them. And the emotional fervor that Stumpf brought to the texturally bare sarabande of the C-minor Fifth Suite threw the intricate textures of the other sarabandes into vivid perspective.

To experience all this was to understand better than ever what makes Bach Bach. Again and again, we think we have come to the natural end of a passage, only to hear it extended by a dozen or so measures. Unlike, say, Bruckner’s familiar inability to come to a punctual close, it shows how Bach’s thought always has new facets in reserve. This is a quality he shares with the otherwise very different Handel, whose ritornellos are rarely content to stop at a symmetrtically compact point but go on to flesh out the musical and expressive message. But then it was a third son of 1685 that came to mind, when, for example, a gigue brought a touch of Domenico Scarlatti into the picture.

For Bach was not for the most part an innovator. His genius lay less in forecasting the musical future than in synthesizing aspects of the past and of his own present – like the style of Vivaldi, who was for him another strong influence – and transforming them into his own powerfully individual language. It was a pleasure and a privilege to hear every element that makes these six extraordinary works so engrossing realized with such authority.

 Bernard Jacobson

Print Friendly

Comments

Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews

Facebook-button-1

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! Leeds Lieder’s Forthcoming Schubert Song Series in Leeds and Sheffield __________________________________
  • NEW! Svetlana Zakharova and Bolshoi Stars Bring Amore to the London Coliseum in November __________________________________
  • NEW! Tom Green and Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife Premieres on 15 October in Cardiff __________________________________
  • NEW! The 2017 Malcolm Arnold Festival in Northampton __________________________________
  • UPDATED! English National Ballet’s 2017 – 2018 Autumn/Winter Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Contemporary Music from Manchester’s Psappha in 2017-18 __________________________________
  • NEW! I Musicanti’s ‘Alexandra and the Russians’ at St Johns Smith Square, 2017-18 __________________________________
  • NEW! The 2017 Oxford Lieder Festival – The Last of the Romantics __________________________________
  • NEW! Anna Netrebko and Yusif Eyvazov’s Return to London in May 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! St John’s Smith Square announces its 2017/18 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! The Pierre Boulez Saal’s 2017/18 Season in Berlin __________________________________
  • NEW! Birmingham and Beyond: Ex Cathedra in 2017/18 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Glyndebourne Opera Cup and Glyndebourne in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra’s 2017/18 Season __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! English Music Festival in Yorkshire Lifts the Lid Off an English Treasury __________________________________
  • NEW! Opera Philadelphia’s Inaugural O17 Festival __________________________________
  • NEW! A FULLY STAGED PILGRIM’S PROGRESS IN ORLEANS, MA __________________________________
  • NEW! JIŘÍ BĔLOHLÁVEK (1946-2017) AND THE CZECH CONDUCTING LEGACY __________________________________
  • NEW! JUSTIN DOYLE DISCUSSES MONTEVERDI WITH MARK BERRY __________________________________
  • NEW! Katie Lowe Wins the 2017 Elizabeth Connell Prize __________________________________
  • NEW! Opportunity for a Rare Composition Masterclass with Gavin Bryars in April 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! ITINÉRAIRE BAROQUE 2017: TON KOOPMAN TALKS TO COLIN CLARKE __________________________________
  • NEW! The Royal Opera House in Mumbai is Restored to its Former Glory __________________________________
  • NEW! iSING! – International Young Artists Festival in Suzhou, China __________________________________
  • NEW! A Riveting Kokoschka’s Doll from Sir John Tomlinson and Counterpoise __________________________________
  • Archives by Week

    Archives by Month

    Search S&H