Bach: The French Suites

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COMPOSERS: JS Bach,Schoenberg
LABELS: Bridge
WORKS: JS Bach: French Suites, BWV 812-17; Schoenberg: Suite, Op. 25
PERFORMER: Andrew Rangell (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 9281A/B

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Schoenberg’s neo-Baroque Suite Op. 25 – his first extended 12-note composition – makes an enterprising companion-piece to the French Suites of Bach. In an evocative simile, the philosopher and musicologist Theodor Adorno described Schoenberg’s piece as ‘glistening like the steel furniture of the Bauhaus’.

The phrase is one that does not, alas, accord with Andrew Rangell’s rather woolly and under-characterised performance, in which the music’s often violent dynamic contrasts are largely ironed out. Such moments as the trio of the minuet movement, which Schoenberg wanted played martellato (hammered), need a much harder edge. For a more incisive performance of this work, Maurizio Pollini (on DG) is exemplary.

Rangell’s accounts of Bach’s French Suites are much more successful. They are not without their idiosyncrasies – the occasional transposition of the left-hand part down an octave, for instance; or the curious decision to link together two dance-movements in different meters, with a reprise of the first in the pair – but they have a real sense of music-making caught on the wing.

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The spontaneity of Rangell’s playing is admirable, though his touch can be heavy at times – the Courante and Gigue of the First Suite, or the Gavotte of No. 4, are cases in point. For a more elegant view of these pieces András Schiff remains a prime candidate, but you should sample this newcomer, too. Misha Donat