Octave Records latest release is a landmark: The Complete Bach Cello Suites by world-renowned cellist Zuill Bailey. Recorded in pure DSD high-resolution audio in stereo and multichannel sound, the six unaccompanied cello suites are a cornerstone of the classical cello repertoire. Bailey offers a compelling new interpretation of Bach’s masterworks informed by decades of immersion in the suites, and the personal and emotional impact Bailey felt from the pandemic.
Mr. Bailey is widely considered to be one of the world’s premier cellists. He is a Grammy award-winning performer, artistic director and teacher. Bailey has collaborated with such conductors and artists as Itzhak Perlman, Stanislav Skrowaczewski, Jaime Laredo, János Starker, the Moscow Chamber Orchestra and others.
Because Bach left no musical annotations in the scores, the interpretive skill of the performer is vital to making the music come alive. “The difficulty in playing them is that they’re so revealing – there’s nothing to hide behind if you’re a musician. There are no markings in the score, so everything that is played is where we as musicians are. You can feel very fragile when playing them in public.”
Bailey first recorded the suites in 2008 on the Telarc label. More than a decade later, these Octave Records performances reflect Bailey’s mature yet more daring approach, captured in stunning high-resolution sound.
“When I was a kid, the Bach Cello Suites were not played in public – they were so difficult that people were afraid of them,” said Bailey.
“After attending Juilliard, about five months after being out of school I felt very alone in the world, and I was trying to find myself. I opened up the Bach Cello Suites and just started at the very beginning. In my 20s and 30s they became my guide and have remained so.” As Bailey approached age 50 he started feeling burned out – and then the pandemic hit.
“Like so many others, I found myself in a strange place, alone and vulnerable. I had been on the road for 315 days a year, and now was cut off from performing.”
Bailey didn’t touch his cello for weeks. “On the other hand, in isolation I rediscovered what ‘home’ was.” When he resumed playing, he once again turned to the Bach Cello Suites. “I began playing Bach very differently – simpler. I found it purifying.” He stated, “the less I tried to ‘interpret’ the music, the better it sounded. It was more symbolic of the solitary feeling I was going through. I began playing it very differently.”
The Complete Bach Cello Suites was recorded at the Ikeda Theater in the Mesa Arts Center in Mesa, Arizona for Octave Records by Robert Friedrich of Five/Four Productions, Ltd. with co-engineer Gus Skinas, and produced for Octave Records by Five/Four’s Thomas Moore, a Grammy award winner. It was recorded, mastered and mixed using Five/Four REVEAL SDM™ pure DSD technology. The REVEAL SDM process is optimized to present superlative musical nuance, dynamics and depth.
This was of particular importance in capturing all the subtleties and tonal shadings of Zuill Bailey’s distinctive 1693 Italian Mateo Goffriller Ex Mischa Schneider “Rosette” cello, an instrument that is bigger and of a different construction than most cellos, not cut down in size like many surviving vintage instruments. This gives it a more robust voice, with a deeper tonality and rich harmonics. “This cello was made when Bach was eight years old,” notes Bailey, “so it was the sound he would have heard when composing the Suites. It sounds more like a ‘baritone’ than a ‘tenor.’ It has this extra ‘air’ and texture.”
The Complete Bach Cello Suites is available in three versions: as a complete set of all six Suites, or a set with Suites 1, 3 and 5, or as a set with Suites 2, 4 and 6. The sets will include hybrid SACD discs with the master stereo and multichannel DSD layer and a CD layer, plus a DVD data disk with high-res PCM and DSD files. In addition, the album is available as a download bundle including DSD64, 192kHz/24-bit, 96kHz/24-bit and 44.1kHz/24-bit PCM.
The Complete Bach Cello Suites was recorded using the Merging Technologies Pyramix digital audio workstation and Hapi A/D and D/A converters. The mics used were an AEA R88, Royer SF-24 and Sennheiser MKH 800. The microphones were fed to Integer Audio RMP-1 and Forssell Technologies SMP-2b mic preamps. The feeds from the mics were mixed through a custom, modified Studer 962 analog console. ATC SCM50 and SCM 25 loudspeakers were employed for monitoring.
Zuill Bailey noted, “this is not just about a new recording of the Bach Cello Suites. This is a marker in time that evolved because of the time we’ve been living in.”