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Sonya Bach brings a ‘clean, jewel-like tone’ to JS Bach’s Keyboard Concertos Nos 1-5 & 7

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Sonya Bach plays JS Bach
Bach: Keyboard Concertos Nos 1-5 & 7
Sonya Bach (piano); English Chamber Orchestra/John Mills
Rubicon RCD1006


Bach’s keyboard concertos are, in fact, his own recyclings for harpsichord and strings of sundry earlier works – fine examples of how he refashioned his music according to his resources and circumstances. Had he lived a generation later, he would might have played them on the piano, as his namesake Sonya Bach does here.

The Korean pianist’s approach reflects her eclectic training: first in the grand Russian school of Heinrich Neuhaus and Lazar Berman; later, with Alicia de Larrocha in Barcelona. Her style fuses these two contrasted worlds with the typically weighty Russian sound lightened by the more luminous Spanish one. Bach plays with eloquent precision and, quite apart from her immaculate technique, there are many things to enjoy here: the clean, jewel-like tone, alert articulation and stylish ornamentation. She can spin beguilingly cantabile melodies, too: the Largo of the F minor Concerto and the G minor’s Andante, for instance, are exquisitely lyrical.

There are times, though, when one seems to have stepped into a Tardis, back to those meaty Bach recordings before the period-performance revolution. Some tempos are rather deliberate, the piano’s bass line can be unduly heavy, and though the English Chamber Orchestra lightens its touch for this repertoire, the full-bodied timbres of their modern instruments can clog some of the tutti passages. If you like your Bach to sound more like Mendelssohn, rich and Romantic with dynamic swells and contrasts, then these technically assured performances may well appeal. For something fleeter, lighter, more transparent, then opt for a performance on harpsichord and period instruments.

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Kate Bolton-Porciatti