For which instrument Bach actually wrote his six suites for unaccompanied violoncello? Pictures, writings, and surviving instruments show that early violoncellos were made in different sizes, ranging from the size of a large viola to the modern full-sized violoncello. The modern cello is ordinarily held between the legs like a bass viol. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries this was not the only possible hold, especially not for small instruments. Bach possessed several violoncello piccolos with both four and five strings. These were made by Johann Christian Hoffmann, a contemporary of Bach in Leipzig. Historical evidence suggests that the appropriate type of violoncello for Bach’s suites is that made by Hoffmann, and that, when played on the arm ("da spalla") like a violin, the number of unavoidable shifts is no more than average for baroque music. A violin or viola player can rapidly become accustomed to the fingering, which is almost identical to that of the violin. While not a single source mentions that Bach played the violone or viola da gamba, he is known to have been a capable violinist and viola-player. We can suppose that Bach himself had been the first player of these two great cycles of solo compositions.
The present recording suggests a fascinating and convincing interpretation of the Six Cello Suites on violoncello da spalla by Dmitry Badiarov, one of the leading figures in the reconstruction of this instrument, and one of its most promising players.