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IPR talks with Kim Kashkashian about the flavor viola brings to Bach's cello music

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Interview with IPR's Amanda Sewell

ECM has just released; Bach's six cello suites, played on the viola by one of the instrument's greatest exponents, Kim Kashkashian. The suites were once described by Pablo Casals as "the very essence of Bach…a whole radiance of space and poetry pours forth from them."  These qualities are in abundance in the present version, recorded at the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York in November and December 2016, and February 2017.

Bach composed the suites around 1720 when he was in the employ of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen.  The autograph manuscript is no longer extant, and the earliest known copies date from 1726 and 1730, the latter made by Anna Magdalena Bach.  Bach himself made a transcription of an arrangement of Suite V for lute, however, which has survived. Differences in articulation between the versions invite a certain expressive liberty. There has also, in recent years, been speculation about the instrument for which Bach wrote the music: was it the violoncello as we know it today, or was it the violoncello da spalla, the small cello played braced against the shoulder'  Were the suites played on the viola in Bach's lifetime Perhaps. Bach's fondness for the viola is documented; he liked to play it in chamber music and also directed cantatas from the viola.

KK talked with IPR's Kate Botello about Bach, the flavor viola brings to his cello music, and her charity Music for Food.

Included at the end of the interview, you'll hear excerpt from Kashkashian's rendition of the Cello Suite in D, which requires a special five-stringed viola.