September 2002 - The little French town of Auvers-sur-Oise not far
from Paris is known worldwide as the place where Vincent van Gogh
spent the last weeks of his life, where he painted some of his
greatest masterpieces and where he eventually put an end to his life.
Until some twenty-five years ago, it remained the sleepy
little place it had always been and a Sunday pilgrimage there could be
very rewarding. The best was to arrive mid-morning by car or local
train, book your table for lunch at the Auberge Van Gogh, stroll
around the little market and then make your way on foot to the
cemetery where Vincent and his faithful brother, Theo, lie side by
side. On the return walk, you could pause for a moment in front of the
church and stand on the very spot at a bend in the sloping path where
the painter must have planted his easel to make the brooding,
magnificent picture of the edifice - the touch of a red-tiled roof on
the right-hand side of the painting provides the clue. You could then
repair to the restaurant and enjoy an excellent and modestly-priced
Sunday lunch; you might even sweetheart la patronne into
letting you see the room in which Van Gogh died.
inevitably, Auvers has been subjected to an assault by the tourist
industry; yet somehow, in spite of hugely-increased numbers of
visitors, the spirit of the place has been left intact. Moreover,
since 1981, it has been the home for an excellent and enterprising
festival of music and the arts during May and June each year. I was
reminded of this when a CD produced under the auspices of the festival
came my way, a complete recording of the Bach cello suites performed
by the French cellist, Henri Demarquette.
This is a
thoroughly worth while addition to the many recordings already
available. Demarquette spans a tight arch over the pieces which make
up each suite so that they are welded into a coherent whole.
Throughout, his speeds are brisk but never to the point of rushing and
the quality of his articulation is never less than admirable. This is
particularly true in the hideously difficult 6th suite, which was
originally written for a five-stringed instrument. In addition,
Demarquette's intonation in the double-stopped passages in the high
positions demanded by the score is a model of accuracy.
occurred to me during several hearings of the two-disk set that in
each suite, it is the sarabande that lies at the heart of the ensemble
of dances. Only too often in performances of the sarabandes,
players tend to go in for a juicy, romantic sound and to stretch out
the tempo. And to be quite honest, who can blame them?! It is the one
moment when they can really give full vent to the cello's glorious
voice (another such moment being, of course, the prelude to the famous
5th suite). Demarquette, however wisely eschews such a path. There is
no shortage of spirituality or of emotion in his performance of the
sarabandes, but everything comes from a higher level. And this
applies right through the succession of the suites. The courantes,
gigues and bourrées are alive with a sort of
sophisticated country joy and the allemandes give off a
delicious whiff of nostalgia.
Not many years ago, the great
tradition of French cello playing was struck a mortal blow by the
deaths in quick succession of André Navarra, Paul Tortellier
and Maurice Gendron. It is now clear that the future of cello playing
in the country is in secure hands when it is entrusted to the likes of
Demarquette, who is already an established international artist. At
the age of thirty-two, he is in full possession of a mighty tone and
technique and I look forward to hearing him in the great concertos.
S. Bach: Cello Suites, BWV 1007 - 1012
- 2 CD
Masterpieces: "Van Gogh's Van Goghs"
Sidgwick writes on music in Britain and France for Culturekiosque.com.