WORKS: Partitas, BWV 825-30
PERFORMER: Lucy Carolan (harpsichord)
CATALOGUE NO: SIGCD 012
Bach issued his six solo harpsichord Partitas at the rate of one a year between 1726 and 1731, when he brought out the six together as his Opus 1. The collection initiated his Clavier-Übung or ‘keyboard practice’, to which he added three further instalments over the following decade.
Taken together, these six works, of considerable technical difficulty, demonstrate Bach’s wonderfully diverse stylistic palette; a palette in which French and Italian styles are integrated with features of Germany’s own indigenous keyboard traditions to form a homogeneous, satisfying picture. Nowhere more, perhaps, does Bach lay open his consummate mastery of diverse European styles than in the Sinfonia which introduces the C minor Partita. There we find some of the formal character of the 17th-century Lullian French opera overture, something of the Italian ‘sinfonia’ and of the contrapuntal traditions of Bach’s homeland.
Scott Ross, in a reissued recording made shortly before his untimely death ten years ago, and Lucy Carolan in her new release, provide entertaining, pleasingly ornamented accounts of this innovative and expressively alluring music. Its rhythmic vitality, virtuosity and inspired melodiousness are not lost on these players for one moment. Ross is more matter-of-fact in his inflective language, perhaps assuming a quicker and sharper comprehension on the part of his audience. Carolan phrases more communicatively and is altogether more conversational in her musical dialogue. Sometimes I found her a shade overemphatic, though never prosaic, but her rhythmic flexibility made considerable appeal. Though Ross can be more brilliant – his playing has a smoother veneer – it is Carolan who more consistently brings out the infinite expressive subtleties of the music. Both players, along with Christophe Rousset (Decca), sit comfortably in the upper reaches of the league table, but no reader, I repeat, no reader should be without Dinu Lipatti’s piano performance of the B flat Partita. Nicholas Anderson