We last encountered cellist Amit Peled on his pre-pandemic recordings of Bach’s Cello Suites Nos. 1–3 and the Brahms Cello Sonatas. The Israeli-born musician was then playing Pablo Casals’ instrument, with which the legendary cellist had recorded his own Brahms and more.
That historic cello is now back with Casals’ widow, and Peled now plays a Grancino cello made about 1695. That’s a quarter-century before Bach composed his cello suites, hard to believe as that may be.
The “new” instrument’s warm tone is an ideal match for Peled’s personal, romantic interpretations of Bach’s Cello Suites Nos. 4 and 5 on his new album Solus et Una. The pandemic lockdown offered many musicians an opportunity to spend an uncommon amount of quality time with the music that most inspires them. Solus et Una is an outstanding example of the fruitfulness of that troubled but, for many artists, productive time.
Taking a romantic approach to this familiar music gives a musician freedom to find further riches in it while expressing his own personality. The effect is most pronounced in the slower movements – Allemandes, Preludes. But tempering the tragedy and pathos, Peled brings a joyful singing quality to the celebratory dances – the Gavottes, the Gigues.
Spend a mere three-plus minutes with this performance of the Sarabande from Suite No. 5, for example, and you’ll be transported to a world of wordless emotion, the same sort of realm Simone Dinnerstein plumbs in her flowing interpretations of Bach’s keyboard music. The Gavotte that immediately follows reminds you, in turn, of this cellist’s exceptional virtuosity.
During the pandemic Peled also spent time on a retreat with a group of his students in a “cello bubble,” modeled after the “NBA bubble” that kept U.S. pro basketball going during the worst of the lockdown. (The 6’5” Peled was once a hoops player.) You can hear him talk about it here.
The “Mount Vernon Virtuosi Cello Gang” – Peled, seven violoncello students, and pianist Allison Freeman – were able to record one piece during the retreat. The Andante from Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 is a fine complement to the Bach, here in an excellent new arrangement for eight cellos and piano by Konstantin Blagojevic. The setting captures the harmonic density, the melodicism, the lush ferment of Brahms at his most gripping.
As such sequences often do, this segue from Bach to Brahms brings the continuity of the baroque-classical-romantic traditions into high relief. It also leaves us with a deepened appreciation for what Brahms achieved with his orchestral works.
This assured performance of the Brahms also highlights Amit Peled’s prowess as a teacher. We’ll have no lack of superb cellists in the coming decades.
Hear Solus et Una on Amit Peled’s website.