Bach: French Suites, BWV 812-817

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Bach
LABELS: ECM
WORKS: French Suites, BWV 812-817
PERFORMER: Keith Jarrett (harpsichord)
CATALOGUE NO: 437 955-2 DDD
Bach’s biographer Johann Forkel claimed these ‘little Suites… are called French Suites because they are written in the French taste’. Keith Jarrett is strongly mindful of this influence, adopting the deliberate and stately tempi of French dances rather than the more sprightly Italian style. He treats the minor-mode suites with high seriousness, and avoids the musical extremes of more overtly virtuosic performances. A little more galanterie and joie de vivre would not have gone amiss, but this is a thoughtful reading for those who like a contemplative approach to Bach.

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In a previous review I bemoaned the fact that so few pianists tackle these works nowadays, so it is good to see this release by Joanna MacGregor joining that of András Schiff last year. MacGregor’s recent forays into Baroque music (first Domenico Scarlatti, now Bach) have yielded fine results, offering a new slant to repertoire that has become the domain of early music specialists. This is lyrical, expressive playing, with none of the hardness that occasionally mars her performances of later music. Unfortunately, the reverberant Collins sound would be better suited to Rachmaninov than it is to Bach. Otherwise, this is a delightful recording; and with all six suites squeezed onto one disc, it’s a bargain. Kate Bolton