WORKS: Partitas, BWV 825, 826, 827, 828, 829, 830
PERFORMER: Robert Woolley (harpsichord)
CATALOGUE NO: Chaconne 0618(2)
In 1731 Bach published, as his Op. 1, the first part of his Clavier-Übung or ‘Keyboard exercises’. It consisted of six Partitas for harpsichord, five of which had been printed separately during the previous five years. The publication of the Partitas is the earliest indication we have of Bach’s wish to preserve his music for posterity, and of his intention, implicit in the designation ‘Op. 1’, to commit further works to print. Bach’s first biographer, Forkel, noted that the Partitas were pieces of incomparable excellence which had caused quite a stir in the musical world at the time of publication.
Robert Woolley is a player with an excellent technique and a consistently thoughtful approach to Bach. Here he draws together Bach’s wonderfully diverse stylistic palette to create the satisfying, homogeneous picture that Bach surely intended. Each of the six works begins with a movement in which the composer highlights formal aspects which provide the strongest contrasts with the initial movements of its five companions. In some of these, as in the allemandes, Woolley emphasises Bach’s profoundly concentrated, abstract sphere, while courantes and assorted galanteries are redolent of the music’s virtuosity and expressive openness. He is not helped by the slightly distant recording perspective. But this is Bach playing of shape and substance, beautifully punctuated and eloquently inflected. Choosing a version of the Partitas, however, remains difficult. Woolley’s chief rivals are Christophe Rousset (Decca) and Andreas Staier (Teldec). My inclination is towards Staier, but readers should be well content with any of these sets. Nicholas Anderson