David Fray’s debut on Virgin Classics caught the eye with a bold pairing of Bach and Boulez. Now he has returned to Bach, adding Partitas Nos 2 and 6 to his discography; this time Fray forsakes Boulez for one of the Toccatas with which the young Bach hoped to cut a dash.
If the sound of double helpings of C minor, plus the E minor of the mighty Partita No. 6, suggests an hour of unrelieved brow-furrowing, fear not. The Capriccio of the C minor Partita No. 2, and the Tempo di Gavotta of No. 6, are as vivacious as anything Bach ever wrote in a major key. The Rondeau is similarly playful yet purposeful, while the Allemande exudes a wealth of expressively ruminative teasing and pleading. Fray’s touch is exactingly nuanced, its technical control aristocratically poised, produces sonorities of irresistibly pellucid light and shade. And his rhythmic vitality is acute
However, beyond its fugal sections, the C minor Toccata sounds slightly divorced from its fantasia roots, and the fantasy element Fray brings to the E minor Partita proves even more problematic. The dreamlike whimsy of the opening Toccata (two minutes longer than from András Schiff or Murray Perahia) might have appealed to Schumann, but it flirts with narcissism. Although the Corrente and Tempo di Gavotta are scintillating, the Gigue sounds like an unhappy refugee from The Well Tempered Clavier. Still, Fray always makes you listen.