WORKS: Partitas, BWV 825, 826, 827, 828, 829, 830
PERFORMER: Masaaki Suzuki (harpsichord)
CATALOGUE NO: CD-1313-14
The six harpsichord partitas form the first part of Bach’s Clavierübung, or keyboard exercises, which he published in 1731. They are highly sophisticated pieces, full of stylistic diversity and whose cosmopolitan language informs the music with charm and warmth of expression. The partitas were much admired in Bach’s lifetime and it is not hard to understand why, for their melodies are at once appealing and the structure of many of their movements innovative.
Masaaki Suzuki enters a crowded arena. Harpsichordists Blandine Verlet (Astrée), Lucy Carolan (Signum) and Trevor Pinnock (Hänssler) are among several strong competitors in the field. Like Suzuki, they respond with lively spontaneity to Bach’s spirited dances while demonstrating an easy ability to enter the much more reflective world of the sarabandes and the abstract gestures of the preludes. Suzuki is the boldest of the four in respect of ornamental freedom – his Menuet I da capo of the First Partita is especially florid and his reading of the spacious, subtly inflected Allemande of the Fourth Partita thoughtful and unhurried. Indeed, Suzuki’s measured declamation throughout is one of the greatest strengths of his performance. But it is perhaps Pinnock who captures the natural suppleness and vivacity of this music best of all. The recorded sound of his set is less intimate than Suzuki’s and too reverberant, yet this alone is not enough to topple him from his current benchmark status. Perhaps it is, in the end, that Pinnock exudes marginally greater joyfulness than Suzuki in his playing. All-in-all, a close-run contest. Nicholas Anderson