Marrow - The Bach Cello Suites / Thorsteinsdóttir

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There is an Icelandic saying, “mergur málsins”, which directly translates to “the marrow of the matter,” and these Suites, to me, speak directly to the essence of being human. As for many cellists, these Suites have been my steady companion throughout my life with the cello, first as a vehicle to learn counterpoint, style, and harmony, then as material with which to explore personal expression and interpretation, and today they are a mirror, reflecting the deeper truth of the human experience, revealing more layers of meaning each time I come back to them.

As far as we know, these Suites were not written for the church, and by 1720, they were not written for people to actually dance to, but rather as forms with familiar rhythms and style. In contrast to the Violin Sonatas and Partitas which were written around the same time, the Cello Suites each have the same movement structure, which includes a Prelude and two pairs of dances (Allemande and Courante, Sarabande and Gigue) with an added “wildcard” of pairs of Menuets, Gavottes, or Bourées. Rather than hindering expression, this structure seems to enable more creativity to flow, as Bach pushes the boundaries of the expressive and technical possibilities of the instrument with each succeeding Suite.

During the heart of the pandemic of 2020, I found comfort and refuge in these Suites. As I began to play them not just individually but as a set, an arch started to emerge, a true Hero’s journey: starting with the innocent 1st Suite in G major, the first taste of bitter disappointment in the d minor 2nd Suite, a renewed optimism in the 3rd Suite in C major, the bold and brash 4th Suite in Eb Major, the dark tragedy of the 5th Suite in C minor, and finally the glorious redemption of the 6th Suite in D Major. My hope in presenting these Suites without repeats is to more clearly illuminate this arch of their presented order so that we may more closely follow this universal storyline. - Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir


Recordings of Bach’s six Cello Suites aren’t in short supply, so what does this latest new one have going for it? Icelandic-American cellist Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir is known as a contemporary music specialist, returning here to what she describes as “mergur málsins” (“the marrow of the matter” in Icelandic), a constant companion throughout her musical life. Thorsteinsdóttir found solace in the suites during the pandemic and celebrated the 2020 summer solstice by playing each suite in a different church in Iceland’s remote Westfjords region. Thorsteinsdóttir views each work as part of a sequence, “a true hero’s journey” which takes the listener from innocence to redemption, tasting disappointment, optimism and tragedy along the way.

Knowing this isn’t a prerequisite for enjoying the performances, and Thorsteinsdóttir’s poised, lyrical playing makes this set a front runner among recent recordings.

-- The Arts Desk

Product Description:

  • Release Date: June 23, 2023

  • Catalog Number: DSL-92263

  • UPC: 053479226303

  • Label: Sono Luminus

  • Number of Discs: 2

  • Period: Baroque

  • Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach

  • Performer: Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir


  1. Suites (6) for Solo Violincello, BWV 1007-1012

    Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach

    Performer: Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir