Bach: English Suite in A minor, BWV 807; English Suite in F, BWV 809; English Suite in E minor, BWV 810

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WORKS: English Suite in A minor, BWV 807; English Suite in F, BWV 809; English Suite in E minor, BWV 810
PERFORMER: Murray Perahia (piano)
For all the persuasive advocacy of artists like Glenn Gould or Rosalyn Tureck, playing Bach on the piano used to be less fashionable than it is in these musically undogmatic times. For no good reason either; for although it is a fundamentally different instrument, the piano in the right pair of hands is as capable as the harpsichord of sounding a crisp, clear, sonorous (yes, harpsichords should be sonorous too) line. Murray Perahia has always been a pianist renowned for clarity of touch, not to say poetic vision (also something perfectly acceptable in Bach – how else should one play a sarabande?), and this second volume of a pair of discs devoted to Bach’s English Suites is a distinguished addition to his discography. But this is no exhibition of over-sensitised pussy-footing. In the Prelude of the A minor Second Suite, for instance, his brittleness and forceful manner come as something slightly unexpected, though entirely appropriate. Occasionally one yearns for a more even balance between the hands – the Allemande of the Fourth Suite in F, where there’s a lot of literal imitation, is an instance. But he affords those sarabandes maximum flexibility and space, while the joyous movements have an irrepressible vivacity (I like especially the brilliant fanfares of the Fourth Suite’s closing Gigue), though he’s careful neither to hurry nor make pedestrian the menuets, and he summons an appropriate seriousness for the fugal movements that frame the Fifth, E minor Suite, the last an ingenious bipartite structure in which the second part is an upside-down version of the first. It’s as fine an example of Bach on the piano as there is, and is certainly a worthy alternative to my benchmark recording, the ever-refined András Schiff. Stephen Pettitt