WORKS: Partitas, BWV 825, 826, 826, 828, 829, 830
PERFORMER: Bernard Roberts (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: NI 5673-74
The six partitas of 1731 formed Part 1 of the Clavierübung, a truly taxing ‘keyboard exercise’. Bach’s first biographer Forkel described them as ‘brilliant, well-sounding, expressive and always new’. Bach himself more modestly offered them ‘to music lovers to refresh their spirits’.
Each partita (suite) opens with a differently titled movement, a veritable compendium of Baroque moods and structures. Roberts, newly recorded last year, tends to linger expressively on first beats, reining in the mesmeric pulse of the concerto-like ‘Praeambulum’ (No. 5) and the impetus of the French Overture’s fugue (No. 4). His piano is hard-toned with an assertive treble B (not an acoustic phenomenon in my room – I checked on headphones). Ornaments are stylishly realised, though often, in Corrente I for instance, inserting forceful accents. Much is enjoyable – a mannered Aria (No. 4) tripping from one off-beat to the next, the following Sarabande finely poised, a prancing Passepied in No. 5.
Carl Seemann, remastered from 1965, creates a quieter tone altogether, emphasised by his penchant for the ‘soft’ pedal, fine for a special moment, but rather predictably varying dance-movement repeats. If his ornamentation is inconsistent, his finger-technique is a delight: the opening Fantasia of No. 3 unfolds in hypnotically even semiquavers over a strutting bass; the (mis-spelled) ‘Courante’ is nonetheless a high-stepping Italianate dance – Corrente.
McDermott ‘refreshes the spirit’ with heartfelt quiet movements and rippling allegros so breathtakingly fleet-fingered that she fits four complete works (omitting some repeats) on to one disc. A highly recommendable sample from two great Bach collections – I’ve not heard them played better. George Pratt