Audiophile Audition Review: BACH: Unaccompanied Cello Suites (Complete)

Look no further—the closest thing to a definitive set of these amazing pieces that I have ever heard.
Published on August 03, 2010

BACH: Unaccompanied Cello Suites (Complete) – Winona Zelenka, cello – Marquis 774718150929 (2 CDs), 135:19 *****

Good Lord in heaven, this was a surprise! Winona Zelenka is a Canadian cellist who studied with, among others, Janos Starker at Indiana University, and his influence is felt heavily in these readings. Starker of course recorded these suites five times (go for his third on Mercury, a three-channel SACD recording of great clarity) and evidently taught Zelenka more appropriate historical methods of bowing and sound production, far removed from the Casals model that she first encountered through his recordings as a child. Zelenka has held positions as Acting Principal Cellist of the Toronto Symphony (and if they have any sense at all they will make that position permanent for her!) and Principal Cellist of the Santa Fe Opera.

Globe & Mail: J. S. Bach: Six suites for solo cello

By Elissa Poole •Winona Zelenka, cello •Marquis Classics

Canadian cellist Winona Zelenka gives Bach’s solo cello suites a stylish ease that we don’t often hear on modern cello. Sarabandes sound like graceful dances, not constipated sacred cows, and Zelenka’s modest vibrato and tasteful use of open strings give her access to affects that sometimes get left behind – reflection, say, or melancholy – for more intense ones, especially in slow movements. Fast movements are exciting, but they’re not cliff-hangers. They’re dances, after all. And passion isn’t zealotry, applied like a smear of varnish, but something more fleeting or revelatory. Fans of Yo Yo Ma might not like these recordings, but fans of J. S. Bach will.

Published Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Ottawa Citizen Review

October 16th, 2010

There are so many complete sets of the Bach unaccompanied Cello Suites that it's tempting to roll one's eyes when another comes along. And yet, it's hard to think of any other repertoire that so gracefully responds to performers' individual personalities.

On Winona Zelenka's set of the six suites, there is a freshness of approach that seldom wanders into idiosyncrasy. A few of the movements, the prelude of the Suite in E-flat for example, require a second hearing to grasp the aptness of her interpretations, but they are convincing in the end. Perhaps the most notable feature of this set is the sheer beauty of sound she brings to the sarabandes and other lyrical movements.

Richard Todd

Whole Note: A Delicate Balance: Winona Zelenka

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A Delicate Balance: Winona Zelenka

Written by Colin Eatock      
To some people, Winona Zelenka is the cellist who sits at the head of her section in the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Perhaps to others, she’s the cellist whose performances of Bach’s cello suites have become annual events at Toronto’s Music Garden. These activities are all part of a delicate balancing act, combining her orchestral playing with her love of chamber and solo repertoire. And as far as she’s concerned, that’s as it should be.
“I think it’s essential for an orchestral string player to do other things: solo or chamber music,” observes the 43-year-old musician over lunch. “In an orchestra you don’t always hear yourself well enough, and things get out of place. If orchestral playing was all that I did, I don’t think my playing would be in great shape.” She pauses, and then adds, “It’s different for the winds and brass – maybe they’re just louder!”



"Their swords were their bows, and their victory was in forgetting about their individual status in their main jobs … and deliver a gorgeous, and intellectually stimulating program…Bérard, Li and Zelenka carved into [Beethoven’s Trio Op. 9, No. 2] with glee, coming up with a full-blooded reading that never rode roughshod over quiet passages."
John Terauds, The Toronto Star, January 2009

(Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 in B Flat Major, conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin) "Her account of the famous cello prologue and epilogue in the andante movement was ravishing and deserved its special ovation."
Ken Winters, The Globe and Mail, May 2008

(William Tell Overture, conducted by Peter Oundjian) "Some of the most beautiful singing … came from the cello of Winona Zelenka. Her opening solo in the Rossini was breathtaking – floating with effortless musicality yet free of display or garishness."
Tamara Bernstein, The National Post, October 2004

(William Tell Overture, conducted by Peter Oundjian)
"….a good William Tell Overture - memorable mainly for the superbly played solo in the second part by … Winona Zelenka"
Ken Winters, The Globe and Mail, September 2004