Album Review: Sophie Webber plays Bach Cello Suites on ‘Escape’

Sophie Webber’s release of favourite Bach cello suite is an interesting listen which has taken me by surprise – a recording which epitomises what I appreciate most about the opportunity listening, writing and reflecting on new recordings.

Sophie’s offer is a tougher one to sell. Such is the popularity and accessibility of Bach’s music that the familiarity of may make cut-through more challenging. But the flipside of that is that such recordings demand a more active kind of listening, and it’s that (and the act of appreciative inquiry which must surely follow) that really pays dividends.

The familiarity of the opening of the G Major Prelude combined with an unusual live acoustic may put listeners off initially – the recording mix reminds me of Nimbus’s output from the mid-late 90s. The extensive reverb can sometimes feel like there is a loss of clarity in the lower notes during the faster passages, though it does work perfectly in what it a gorgeous piece of videography that accompanies the marketing material for the album. 

But those initial concerns and the assumptions that result are very quickly challenged in phrases where something of the vulnerability of the musician is hinted at. The bow technique at the ends of phrases really bring that out, and for me hook me into the process in a similar way that attending a live concert would. There is a kind of fragility to the playing which, combined with the deep acoustic reverberation, creates a sense of downlit drama to the end product that’s compelling.

There feels as though there’s more clarity at the beginning of the second cello suite in D minor, and a strength and resolute determination in the phrasing that moves the story of the recording on a little further. The opening of No. 6 consolidates this re-discovered resolve.

The pinnacle where the story of the recording is concerned is the epic opening of the No. 5 in C minor. The music sounds monumental, imposing and perhaps even a little cantankerous. It’s music that demands it’s paid close attention to and which will, when spoken to nicely, behave appropriately. This is a big strong sound, muscular and uncompromising that needs a space to reverberate around. The fourth movement in particular is a special thing.  

The story that seems to underpin the entire recording contributes to its unique selling point. The album isn’t billed as a live recording but it has a live feel to which makes its authenticity in that respect appealing.  That’s something I really respond to on a personal level – a pragmatic, resourceful and loving creation. That’s what makes it human and real.

Sophie Webber's 'Escape: Bach Cello Suites' is available via iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon and Spotify, or via digital download via www.sophiewebber.com

Sophie appears in San Diego on 22nd April, 10th August in Chicago, and the Royal Naval College Chapel, Greenwich, London on Friday 23 November. Further details at sophiewebber.com

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