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French Suites BWV 812-817
David Cates (Harpsichord)
Short Review of the David Cates Set of Bach's French Suites

K-2

J.S. Bach: The French Suites

French Suites BWV 812-817 [14:32, 12:46, 13:24, 14:25, 18:03, 16:18]
Prelude in B minor (by Wilhelm Hieronymous Pachelbel, not J.S. Bach), BWV 923 [3:17]

David Cates (Harpsichord)

Music & Arts

Nov 2001

2-CD / TT: 95:00

Recorded in Takilma, Oregon, USA.
Short Review of the David Cates Set of Bach's French Suites
Review: Catesís Bach
Buy this album at: Amazon.com

Donald Satz wrote (January 14, 2004):
Some of you might be familiar with harpsichordist David Cates from his recordings on the Wildboar label of Bach and Froberger keyboard works. Cates is an exceptional Bach performing artist, and his new recording of the French Suites matches or exceeds the exisiting ones from Davitt Moroney, Keith Jarrett, and Christopher Hogwood.

There are three aspects of the set I should mention. First, Cates routinely skips the repeats of second subjects of each movement. Second, he adds a prelude before the Allemande of each Suite; there is some precedent for this approach, although I doubt that the practice will become common to future recordings of the French Suites. Third, he uses a staggering technique for his performances of the Allemandes and Sarabandes; this simply means that one or more voices are played ahead or behind the beat. The skipped repeats are not irksome, the added preludes make for an interesting presentation, and the staggering of voices is distinctive and adds to the music's poignancy. Sound quality is exceptional.

Don's Conclusions: The Cates set is the most consistently excellent recording of the French Suites I've heard to date. If you insist on repeats being observed, you might turn away from this set. However, you'll be missing out on one of the finest performances of these Suites on record.

 

Feedback to the Review

Steve Schwartz wrote (May 6, 2005):
Don Satz mentions my name:
< Quite a few months ago, both Steve Schwartz and I reviewed on this board a set of Bach's French Suites played by harpsichordist David Cates on the Music & Arts label. I found the performances the best on the market; Steve considered them overly romanticized. I didn't and still can't see how Steve came to his conclusions; it was as if we had listened to different performances. Which one of us has the true insight into Bach's sound world - only Steve, only me, both of us, none of us? Questions that can't really be answered except by Bach, and he's not talking. >
Actually, in the final analysis, I don't care about Bach's opinion. He's just one of many, and his opinion doesn't carry as much weight with me as my opinion does. Call me a solipsist. However, I don't even consider you or me necessarily right. We hear what we hear and make a case for our reactions. What else can we do? Cates, incidentally, is starting to grow on me -- as I speculated in my review that he might.

Miguel Muelle wrote (May 9, 2005):
Steve Schwartz wrote:
< ... I don't even consider you or me necessarily right. We hear what we hear and make a case for our reactions. What else can we do? Cates, incidentally, is starting to grow on me -- as I speculated in my review that he might. >
On Don's recommendation, I purchased the Cates and have loved it from the beginning. As far as who's right, I don't really know that it ultimately matters. But I do feel that when an artist puts his work "out", he gives up a certain amount of authority as to interpretation and meaning, as this is part of the interaction with his audience (this applies to all arts, I think). When someone criticized Jacqueline du Pre for playing something in a different manner than the composer would have liked, she said something to the effect of "once he has finished writing it, it is mine!"

Karl Miller wrote (May 10, 2005):
[To Steve Schwartz]
I am reminded of something one of my composition teachers said to me. "When you finish your composition, the first one or two performances are yours, the rest aren't." His statement suggested that once a piece is launched, it has, in a sense, a life of its own.

I also like the notion of those who drafted the US constitution. The writers understood it would need to be amended and interpreted. One can argue that the Supreme Court has never reversed itself...however...

On a related thread...I have a vague recollection of a video of a Szell rehearsal where he was telling the orchestra the inflection used in a tune Brahms had quoted in a work. He stressed that the tune had a specific significance and had been viewed in certain way. OK, so maybe Szell did know what was meant, but what of the time when a conductor might not know the significance of the tune. Certainly, I would doubt most of the audience would be aware.

Bach could tell us what he may have meant, but I wonder if he would either delight or be frustrated by an interpretation which differed from his own conceptualization of his music. Then one can consider Stravinsky...his interpretations of his own music changed signficantly over the years...same with Copland. Maybe it was due in part to their evolution as conductors, but, especially in the case of Stravinsky, the changes are quite signficant.

Santu de Silva wrote (May 11, 2005):
Karl Miller writes:
< .. ...I have a vague recollection of a video of a Szell rehearsal where he was telling the orchestra the inflection used in a tune Brahms had quoted in a work. He stressed that the tune had a specific significance and had been viewed in certain way. OK, so maybe Szell did know what was meant, but what of the time when a conductor might not know the significance of the tune. Certainly, I would doubt most of the audience would be aware. >
Suppose a time comes when wooden violins are so expensive that it becomes common practice to play plastic violins. (Don't jeer; the art of making natural wood violins may die out in a few decades.) On some day in the distant future, imagine a 90- year-old Joshua Bell, now no longer able to play, but become a conductor. He insists that the 12 surviving wooden violins in the possession of the orchestra must be used to play some piece. (You put in the appropriate piece.) "I know what the composer wanted, and this will not sound right on plastic violins!"

"But maestro, how can you be sure? And they're not plastic, they're resin violins!"

"Resin, schmesin!" etc etc.

(And furthermore, there are millions of recordings of the work using wooden violins. Who needs another wooden performance?)

I wonder what I mean by this little thought experiment! Just suppose that Szell had some rare insight into some particular Brahms tune. Does it make more sense to do it his way, or to ignore that insight on the basis that if Szell was not around the insight would no longer be available?

The best of all would have been to advertize the performance as having a special Szellian insight that might pollute it. ("Those who wish an insight-free performance should not attend the Thursday concert, but wait for the Friday concert; thanks.--Management")

Arch (S de Silva), possibly missing the bus.

Steve Schwartz wrote (May 13, 2005):
Arch replies to Karl:
<< ... ...I have a vague recollection of a video of a Szell rehearsal where he was telling the orchestra the inflection used in a tune Brahms had quoted in a work. He stressed that the tune had a specific significance and had been viewed in certain way. OK, so maybe Szell did know what was meant, but what of the time when a conductor might not know the significance of the tune. Certainly, I would doubt most of the audience would be aware. ... >>
< I wonder what I mean by this little thought experiment! Just suppose that Szell had some rare insight into some particular Brahms tune. Does it make more sense to do it his way, or to ignore that insight on the basis that if Szell was not arouthe insight would no longer be available? >
But it's not the insight that matters. It's ultimately the performance. If Szell got the result, the insight (or argument he constructed) may have led him to the result. Performers do this sort of thing all the time, sometimes trying to justify themselves historically (as in this particular case), textually (Toscanini was accused of taking a Beethoven symphonic movement too fast; later it was found that the standard edition of the time had left in an erroneous metronome marking. Beethoven's original mark was pretty much Toscanini's tempo), or even extramusically (eg, the text expresses this emotion; therefore, so does the music that sets the text). Szell's insight (referring to a Brahms song most of the musicians probably didn't know) was simply one method of persuasion for and communication of his interpretation.

Karl Miller wrote (May 13, 2005):
Santu De Silva wrote:
< I wonder what I mean by this little thought experiment! Just suppose that Szell had some rare insight into some particular Brahms tune. Does it make more sense to do it his way, or to ignore that insight on the basis that if Szell was not around the insight would no longer be available? >
I don't know if it makes more sense or not.

< The best of all would have been to advertize the performance as having a special Szellian insight that might pollute it. ("Those who wish an insight-free performance should not attend the Thursday concert, but wait for the Friday concert; thanks.--Management") >
Perhaps it just depends on whose insight one prefers. Consider a conductor, totally unaware of the significance of that tune, who predicates a performance based upon bring out some of the subordinate lines in the piece. Who is right? Or is there a right?

I am reminded of a line Koussevitzky is reported to have said frequently. In discussing the performance of new music he said, "we must find the way." I heard that quote in an interview when Roy Harris was talking about Koussevitzky. Harris said that what it meant was that the first performance helped to establish a performing tradition. Interestingly, I think the advent of the recording has done more to stifle creativity in interpretation.

< Arch (S de Silva), possibly missing the bus. >
Nope, I think you are right on.

 

French Suites BWV 812-817: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | French - Brookshire | French - Cates [Satz] | French - Cates [Schwartz] | French - Dart | French - A. Klein | French - Payne | French - Rannou | Rübsam - Part 1 | French - Suzuki

David Cates: Short Biography | Recordings of Instrumental Works
Reviews of Instrumental Recordings:
Short Review of the David Cates Set of Bach's French Suites | Catesís Bach

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