Roy Gilbert

Bach’s Cello Suites, Now on Violin, With a Folksy Feel

Bargemusic was rocking last Friday evening as rain fell heavily outside, casting the view of Lower Manhattan in gray.

Inside, though, Bargemusic — the tiny concert hall docked in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge in Dumbo — was alight with the liveliness of belowdecks entertainment as a small audience rode out the storm to the fiddling sounds of Johnny Gandelsman’s violin. At times the performance had the improvisatory feel of folk music, but it was in fact a survey of Bach’s towering six cello suites — transformed, with foot-tapping joy, for a smaller string instrument.

Gandelsman isn’t the only violinist to have tackled these classic works; Rachel Podger recorded them in 2019, a year before he released his own set. But his approach is singular: feather-light and rooted in dance and folk music. He treats the suites as six enclosed spaces, tracing long arcs through each one, the sections blurring as he plays them through without pausing. Gandelsman’s recording came out in February 2020, and he had a concert planned at the Irish Arts Center in Manhattan that March. Like everything else, it was canceled. Bargemusic on Friday was his return; because of ongoing safety measures, it was a modest one, with a distanced crowd in an already small space, and the six suites spread over two evenings instead of his usual one.

He’ll be back on the barge, June 24 and 25 , with more Bach: the sonatas and partitas for solo violin. After that, he may return to this […]

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