Bach: Six Partitas for Harpsichord
Ton Koopman is indefatigable. He has recorded all of Bach’s cantatas and organ works, and is well on the way to completing the remaining keyboard music, solo and with other instruments. His enthusiasm shines through his playing, nowhere more so than in the Toccata opening Partita VI: its opening, full of quirky rhythms, exploits the freedoms of the Baroque stylus fantasticus (fantastic style), yet it’s bound by a taut underlying pulse. By contrast, the following fugue couldn’t be more disciplined; Koopman’s part-playing is crystal clear.
His technique is superb, too: the hand-crossing in the first Gigue is fast but unhurried, ornamentation is lavish and spontaneous, phrasing and articulation are cogent and inventive. I wonder if he ever plays a movement twice in the same way.
Most of the dances reflect their functional heritage, though lingering over the repeats in the Courante of No. 1 throws the pulse for a moment. Koopman’s buoyant wit keeps breaking the surface, as in the bounding Capriccio of 2, the 3/4-6/8 ambiguity of Minuet 5, and the ‘Burlesca’-Scherzo-‘Gigue’ sequence in 3.
The modern copy of a Ruckers harpsichord is by the Dutch builder Willem Kroesbergen, with colourful contrasts between the nasal tone from one manual and the full richness of the other. The tuning (Werkmeister III) retains some striking differences of character between various keys; a B minor moment in 4’s Allemande is highly spiced.