Bach: Clavierübung, Book 1; Clavierübung, Book 2

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LABELS: Deutsche Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Clavierübung, Book 1; Clavierübung, Book 2
PERFORMER: Andreas Staier (harpsichord)
CATALOGUE NO: 05472 77306 2 DDD
‘Such splendid compositions for the clavier had not been seen or heard before.’ So Bach’s biographer Forkel wrote of the partitas in 1802, since when they’ve become core repertoire for harpsichordists and pianists alike. Staier’s recording follows not long after Christophe Rousset’s version, and the two could hardly be more contrasted. Staier treats the partitas very much as virtuoso show pieces, taking some of the faster movements at a breakneck speed – so hold on tight for the Gigues of the first and fourth Partitas, the A minor Scherzo, and the Italian Correnti of the last two suites. As a demonstration of keyboard acrobatics, his display is astounding; and while I found Rousset’s partitas occasionally lacking in variety, Staier’s highly idiosyncratic interpretations are nothing if not exciting. Unlike Rousset, too, Staier adds his own embellishments to the repeats, making the A minor Burlesca sound more like Scarlatti than Bach. The main drawback is a lack of warmth and lyricism: after a while one yearns for a less intense atmosphere. In addition to the Partitas, Staier throws in equally exhausting accounts of the Italian Concerto and the French Overture, both of which confirm his position as the Paganini of the harpsichord. Kate Bolton