You’ve heard of “El Sistema” and conductor Gustavo Dudamel.
Here’s another one to add to the list, Carmine Miranda.
A native of Venezuela, Miranda is a cellist and a 24-year-old doctoral candidate and student of Yehuda Hanani at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.
Miranda’s debut solo CD, “Bach: 6 Cello Suites,” released Feb. 1 by Centaur Records, is phenomenal. This judgment would be no different were the reviewer unaware that it was made without editing -- no cutting and splicing, no digital tweaking of any kind. Complete on two discs are one hour and thirty minutes of Preludes, Allemandes, Courantes, Menuets, Bourrées, Gavottes, Sarabandes and Gigues, a feast of vintage baroque, recorded when Miranda was just 22.
The six Suites pose a world of challenges for a cellist, technical and musical. Miranda meets them splendidly and at the same time, gives each Suite his own stamp. In his liner note, Miranda cites the lack of a definitive version of the Suites. They survive only in secondary versions, including one by Bach’s second wife Anna Magdalena Bach (Bach’s autograph manuscript has been lost), and there are discrepancies among them. “For this reason,” he writes, “the six cello suites are a unique and special set of works which are left to the personal interpretation and imagination of the performer, combined with historical knowledge of the past where the heart meets the mind, or as Pablo Casals used to say ‘freedom with discipline.’”
Miranda interprets them as “dances and not like studies,” with Casals' directive in mind, and “in the voice of a modern cello, as there are significant technical and tonal differences from that of a baroque cello (compare the fortepiano with the modern pianoforte, he adds).
Miranda’s approach is virtuosic and musically persuasive. Tempos tend to be brisk (if not pushed now and then), but he brings to bear interpretive insights -- his term is “folkloric” -- which make the set as a whole a delight.
My favorites (too numerous to mention) include the Prelude to Suite No. 1, which builds to an exciting climax, the magisterial Prelude to Suite No. 3 in C Major, the superb Allemande to Suite No. 2 in D Minor, and the Sarabande of Suite No. 2 and Allemande of Suite No. 3, which can only be described as elegant. Add the spirited and very musical Gavottes of Suite No. 6 and Bourrées of Suite No. 3, and that would be just the beginning. The pure wow factor of the Prelude to Suite No. 6 sets it apart technically (it was originally conceived for a five-stringed instrument), as does the Prelude to Suite No. 4 in E-flat Major.
As Miranda points out, each Suite is different (“a world of
its own”). He calls Suite No. 6 the “Irish Suite” for its evocation of bagpipes
in Gavotte II. Suite No. 4 is “spiritual” with its “prayer-like
Sarabande.” The one which stood out for
me for interpretive depth is Suite No. 5 in C Minor, which has a
solemn, but powerful cast. The Prelude is phrased beautifully, in a big,
handsome tone by Miranda, and the succeeding movements are rendered with great insight and beauty.
In short, this is a debut CD of distinction, one to take an honored place among the many versions available.
Digital downloads are available at iTunes, ArkivMusic and Presto Classical (see below) and from online distributors like Amazon and Spotify, as well as by order in stores.