Best Vinyl Bach - Solo Cello Suites recording?

Hi All,

Been looking for this out on the bay, but there are so many, i'm not sure which is best. I've already read that Starkers interpretation is the "best" -- that is, most accurate, lively, etc. I'm not after this though -- I want the "best" recording of it. Starkers version is $100+ for a 3lp set, Casals 25-50, YoYoMa $70ish. Do you have any experience with these recordings? What are your thoughts?

The Starker set on Mercury is exceptionally well recorded. The Speakers Corner reissue, still available new, is very well done. The sound is immediate, with high impact. It is relatively closely miked, so there is not a lot of hall ambiance in the sound field. What you get is the sound of Starker and his cello sitting immediately in front of you.

For another beautifully well-recorded set of the solo sonatas, there is the Helmerson recordings on BIS (LP5, LP25, LP65). You'll have to hunt the used market for these three records as they've not been reissued. The Helmerson performances are more distantly miked and capture the wonderful reverberation of the church in which they are performed.
I cannot tell you how the Mercury Living Preference reissue of the Starker compares with the Speakers Corner, but I can tell you that it is very, very good. Should be relatively inexpensive as a used set.
If you want a heartfelt power performance, Rostropovich on EMI is unbeatable .
If. like me, you want an elegant performance, Fournier's is the most profound . DG 449711-2. remastered to better sound than is normal for DG.

I never heard a bad recording of these masterpieces .
Casals is the least accurate, but perhaps the most romantic and passionate. It certainly is not in fashion these days. I agree on the merits of the Rostropovich and wish I had a set of the Fournier (I love his version of the Lalo Cello Concerto in D).

Most of the other versions I have are on CD, not so many on LP around here when I started looking, and I don't like to use ePay.

Good luck and have fun!
Above I meant Mercury Golden Imports reissue. Sorry.
If you like this music, check out the MA Recordings version on CD. Not vinyl, but as good as I've ever heard a CD sound. It's good enough that you could live with it if you had to.
The Starker Suites on Mercury Living Presence is the gold standard. It has stood as such for 50 years. It is still available on CD, mp3 download, HD download, and LP, the aforementioned 3-LP set by Speakers Corner. It was also on SACD until it went out of print a few years ago.

Of the others mentioned (and not mentioned) here, only the Starker, Fournier, and Casals were recorded in analog.

The Speakers Corner Starker is stunning, and puts the man and his cello right in your room. Easily worth the $100. The analog aspect gives full due to the cello itself, and its liquid, singing delivery. Dynamics on the LPs are as good as it gets.

I have an original mid-'60s mono of the Starker suites, a current Speakers Corner LP reissue, the 2-CD Mercury set, plus the Suites on CD by Lynn Harrell and Rostropovich. I also heard the earlier of Yo Yo Ma's two renditions of the suites on CD.

Growing up I also heard the Casals LPs.

I liken Starker's suites to Artur Rubinstein's piano style--virtuoistic, dynamic, disciplined tempi, lots of music, little to no schmaltz. Of latter day artists I've heard, Harrell comes closest and Rostropovich's is probably the most personally emotional and therefore idiosyncratic.

If you search for the cello suites on LP, you can start with Starker or somewhere else, but sooner or later you'll probably end up with Starker. The Speakers Corner set checks all the right boxes--recording quality, mastering, pressing, dynamics, and the disciplined performance of an absolute master at the peak of his power.

I don't think it's ever been offered on LP, but I like Harrell's Suites as well. They're pretty disciplined, but Harrell reminds you that these suites were originally a dance form and he injects some welcome liveliness into the appropriate movements. Plus Harrell always pulled the most magnificent tone out of his Montagnana and Strad cellos.
Casals' recording is no match to Staker's. I have both.
The thing is, most Bach solo cello suite records are very expensive and sought after, especially those with good recording quality. For example, Starker's mono recording costs over $500. It is great that now we have Starker's stereo recording reissue at under $100.
+1 on the Speakers Corner reissue of Starker's set. If recording quality is your goal, this is a must have.
^^^ Yep. Considering that original mono sets of Starker hit $500 and the
stereo ones fetch around $1500, the Speakers Corner set is practically a gift,
especially considering its exceptional quality in all aspects.

There's a reason for that, in case you're wondering what the go-to LP set of
the Bach Suites is. The Starker-on-Mercury was legendary from its 1965
debut. And the more you play it, the more you understand why--50 years
later--it still is.
I use a Yo Yo LP as a phono cartridge tester, and when I simply want to hear that greasy killer tone of his as a Large Reference. Kills me, and I usually wind up playing guitar too loud through a small tube amp immediately after.
What Yo Yo LP are you referring to? Most of his stuff, especially the earlier
stuff, sounds a bit thin and buzzy to me, esp compared to Harrell. Maybe this
one is closer-miked.

If you want to hear a monster cello tone, listen to some Lynn Harrell.
Johnnyb, totally agree on Harrell. He is a consummate musician, and I find the sound of his cello much to my liking. I've heard Starker, Ma, Mork, Alban Gerhardt, Bailey, and so many others live. I've heard Ma live multiple times. Harrell beats them all. Best Dvorak concerto I have ever heard, and not by a slim margin. Funny, I have so few Harrel recordings. That is a deficiency I really should rectify.

I never had the pleasure of hearing Rostropovich.
I have only heard two players of note play the cello suites
One was Rostopovich, the other Anner Bylsma who is the towering figure of historically informed music on the cello and a musician declared a national treasure by the Dutch.
Can't say one was better than the other. I thought Rostopovich made the music sing, Byslsma made it dance.
If you want a CD, Bylsma made a recording of it using a borrowed strad which is most wonderful and the one I listen to over and over.
Bach Unaccompanied Cello Suites Vol. 2. A greasy rendition indeed.
I envy your opportunities of hearing these suites played live by two such towering masters. Thanks for the tip on the Byslsma set. I just ordered a copy.
Schubert and Dougdecon, I also ordered a used copy of the Byslsma set. Looks like this is out of print, with fairly high used prices. Anyone who wants to get a reasonably priced copy should act fast.
I only have the Speakers Corner Starker reissue, but the sound is astonishing, never mind the technique, which is astonishing to. Definitely one of my favourite classical recordings, I can bring out to Hi-Fi doubters, to try and prove what a good rig can give you.
I hope you got the latter of his two recordings , 1992 I think, where he plays the famous strad from the Smithsonian
Collection, just for the sound.
But Bylsma's earlier SEON recording now on Sony is fine as well.

I believe the original instrument crowd thinking this music should be played on the instruments it was written for are spot on. Bach wrote for the Lord of the Dance.
The Cantatas are the heart and soul of Bach, they were written to aid the prayers of devout believers not as the
mini-operas being recorded today.
Most illuminating are the one voice to a part series by Sigiswald Kuijken's "Le Petite Band" which sound just like what they are, simple Christians at prayer.
When Bach signed every work "To the Glory of God" that is exactly what he meant.
I was ready to recommend either of the Bylsma recordings, but then I saw your post. The earlier recording, on the Seon label, is very good; it is somewhat drier in sound than the Starker or Rostropovich, but the pace and tone are are, as you say, fine....and maybe better than that.
He slows himself in the later recording, and there is a bit more richness and treacle, but I didn't think this was available on vinyl. I would be very interested to hear otherwise.
I hope you got the latter of his two recordings , 1992 I think, where he plays the famous strad from the Smithsonian

Fully agree that authentic instrument (and vocal style) performances are preferable (assuming a good performance of course). 30-40% of my ~4,000 LPs are such, including (for example) the 45 volume/90 LP Harnoncourt/Leonhardt Cantata cycle. I am not particularly religious, but hearing Bach's Cantatas performed in the spirit he wrote them could almost make me so. Modern, operatic renditions are also a travesty to my ears.
IMO original instruments give Bach what is needed, less precision and more mystery .Even more called for in vocals.

I am religious, but was not when I first heard the Cantatas
and Passions, but being Christian has brought new depth , to me at least.
Masaaki Suzuki. whose operatic style series on BIS has been
widely lauded, says you don't have to be Christian to understand Bach, that's as may be, but it sure doesn't hurt.
I own Heinrich Schiff but on CD's by EMI. I have no idea
if this performance is available on LP's. This recording is
made in 1985 so it should be possible.
As an atheist and someone who is devoutly anti religion, I can also appreciate music by superstitious 18th century musicians…it's easy.
Nadric, I have the Schiff too , never saw it on vinyl.
Good performance, but EMI overdid the reverb IMO.
Hi Wolf_Garcia, I am atheist also but without the
church assignments there would be no Bach, Michelangelo
and many other works of art. It is not the intention but the result that counts.
Addendum. Compare whatever statue of Lenin with Michelangelo's Adam to see the light.
Dougdeacon, you should start a thread just for the original
instrument set to recommend recordings, artists etc-like endless "jazz for aficinoados" one, only more civil : .}

Speaking of Bach , I just got the Roy Goodman/Brandenburg Consort set of the Brandenburg Cnts. on Hyperion .
Been holding off as I thought the half-dozen I had was sufficient, but everything I hear from Goodman is so lively,
creative and well done I just couldn't resist.

If I had to have only one set of Brandenburgs this would be it. The performances are spell-binding AND the sound is superb. I believe the 6th has the best sound I ever heard on a CD !
My preference is Anne Gastinel's two CD set on the Naive label.
Well, who knew?

Here's a modern (2012) all-analog recording, mastering, and limited edition pressing of the Bach Suites performed by Rocco Filippini on 180g vinyl at less than half the price of the Speakers Corner Starker.

I have no direct experience with this artist or recording, but it certainly looks promising.

What prompted me to search for alternatives is that I just heard the 4th Suite by Luigi Piovana, and it's fabulous. I couldn't turn the radio off. It's a digital recording available (AFAIK) only on CD, but to this vinylphile it sounded *really* good and the performance is quite compelling, as in, it compels you to sit in the sweet spot and listen to the whole thing.
The Rocco Filippini recording on Fone is a fine recording. The performance, however, is in a style of strict adherence to meter and it loses my interest rapidly. Color me a bit disappointed by Filippini, but I like his Haydn concerto on Fone.

The Starker, Helmerson and Bylsma performances are much more interesting to my ear.
Rushton, thanks for the input, as I have no direct experience with the Filippini.

I am, however, intrigued by the Piovano. Although it's CD and download only, the performance and digital mastering qualities may make it a compelling acquisition. I really like his interpretation and the reverberant ambience of the recording. And I say this as an ardent Starker/Mercury fan.
I purchased the Speakers Corner Starker, thank you all for advice.
I purchased the Speakers Corner Starker, thank you all for advice.
Thanks for letting us know, Jeff1225. Hope you enjoy!