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GRAMOPHONE (Awards Issue /2015)
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Reviewer: Caroline Gill


From the first open G string of the first Prelude, the persona of Philip Higham’s performance of the Bach Cello Suites could not be clearer as one of quietly self-assured gentleness. There is a combined impression of bravery and calm here, and no sense of Higham trying to present either something artistically ambiguous or a final and categorical account of his thoughts on these pieces. That is not to say that this set is not carefully considered, though: on the contrary, there are countless minutely wrought corners in the subtlety of his phrases and their direction through each suite that give this performance a powerful personality. The listener is left with a feeling that this is a snapshot of where Higham is now as a performer rather than concluding that this recording is intended to be something ‘definitive’.


There is further insight to be found in the audible care taken in this reading, played from a facsimile of Anna Magdalena Bach’s manuscript copy of the Suites. Furthermore, this is a set where the instruments themselves take centre stage: Higham plays his usual warm and fulsome Testore for Suites Nos 1 to 5 but swaps to a clean and crisp modern five-string Roth cello for the filigree Sixth Suite. It is hard to imagine how Higham could have done better than choose these very different instruments to elicit the combinations of tone and colour that he is able to achieve across the Suites.


This cellist is, in fact, particularly good at matching instrument to music: his disc of the Britten Suites (3/13) exposed with accomplishment how that composer uses the sounds and colours of the cello to reference the Bach (and Shostakovich). What is apparent in this recording, as an added layer of nuance in an already exceptional performance, is the presentation of the context in the Bach Suites themselves, the two discs together creating a holistic approach of great artistry.


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