Yesterday evening cellist Jennifer Kloetzel returned to the Hotel Rex to give the third Salon program in the San Francisco Performances (SFP) 2017–18 season. Kloetzel had presented the first of these Salon events a year ago at the beginning of the 2016–17 season, joined by pianist Robert Koenig. This time she was on her own, playing only music from the solo repertoire.
As had been previously announced, she prepared a program that she called Bach & Beyond. The six suites by Johann Sebastian Bach (BWV 1007–1012) are probably the best known compositions for solo cello in the standard repertoire; and Kloetzel used these pieces to form the “spinal cord” of the evening, over the course of which she played selected movements from all six of the suites. Among those selections she introduced works by the “beyond” composers, a 1926 solo cello suite by Gaspar Cassadó (inspired by both Bach and Cassadó’s teacher Pablo Casals, who probably contributed much to Cassadó’s knowledge of Bach), the Prelude movement from the first of Ernest Bloch’s three solo cello suites, composed in 1956, and Elena Ruehr’s 2013 “Lift,” which she composed for Kloetzel.
Another major figure behind Kloetzel’s program was the musicologist Andrew Talle. He recently completed the fourth of the revision volumes for Bärenreiter’s New Bach Edition. Kloetzel explained that there is no “original manuscript” for the cello suites in Bach’s hand. Talle’s volume involves a critical examination of all existing source material (including movements that also appear in the lute suites), which has led to some serious rethinking about performance. Kloetzel did not deep-end on musicological details; but it was clear that last night involved far more than playing from some preferred printed publication.
The first page of Anna Magdalena Bach's manuscript for BWV 1007, one of the sources for Andrew Talle's study (from Wikimedia Commons, public domain)
Nevertheless, she did credit Talle with endorsing one of her approaches to performance. Her first Bach selection was the opening Prelude to the first suites, BWV 1007 in G major, which is probably the most familiar of all the solo cello movements. She raced through it at a tempo I had never previously encountered but then explained that the tempo had met with Talle’s approval. As a listener I have to say that, at that pace, she could present the entire movement as a single, noticeably building crescendo, endowing the final measures with a sense of a truly dramatic climax. This is an expressive rhetoric that can be encountered in Bach, but not very often; and I suspect that this was a setting in which Talle felt that the rhetorical stance was perfectly appropriate. This first Bach offering had been preceded by the Bloch prelude, whose boldly angular gestures guaranteed attention riveted to Kloetzel’s every move; and her approach to the BWV 1007 prelude certainly kept attention at an intense level.
All of her remaining selections involved movements based on dance forms. She made the case that familiarity with the dances informed approaches to rhythm and overall rhetoric. Ironically, our own familiarity with those dances owes more to our knowledge of Bach than to any sense of what the steps were or how they were supposed to be executed. Nevertheless, one can appreciate how the spirit of physical movement pervades these movements; and Kloetzel’s selections provided an engaging guide to how all of Bach’s other dance movements could be approached by the serious listener. She could also then make the case that Cassadó’s suite owed much to reflections on the dance forms that he knew best. Only the Ruehr piece seemed to depart from the dance as a frame of reference, which may explain why its own journey from beginning to end came across as more than a little enigmatic, in not meandering.
Kloetzel used her encore to explore another perspective on “beyond.” She played a short piece entitled “Bach to the Beatles: Here Comes the Sun.” This was an arrangement by Peter Wilson that involved a mash-up of the G major prelude with George Harrison’s song from the famous Abbey Road album. Kloetzel’s execution gracefully perambulated between Bach’s repeated patterns and those in Harrison’s accompaniment line, and the synthesis made for a delightfully engaging conclusion to a highly absorbing evening.