Bach: Partitas, BWV 825-30

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COMPOSERS: Bach
LABELS: Naïve Astrée
WORKS: Partitas, BWV 825-30
PERFORMER: Blandine Verlet (harpsichord)
CATALOGUE NO: E 8849

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Though the pattern of movements which Bach adopted in each of his six keyboard partitas is essentially regular and traditional he achieves within it a wonderfully stylistic diversity whose cosmopolitan language is immediate in its ability to touch our emotions.

The pieces were widely admired by Bach’s contemporaries, above all for their melodies, expressive range and innovative qualities. Recordings of the six partitas abound, since they are cherished by harpsichordists and pianists alike. Now, Blandine Verlet and Kenneth Weiss enter the crowded list with performances that are rhythmically supple, unhurried and warmly communicative on a variety of levels. Sometimes in the past Verlet’s playing has struck my ears as being too matter-of-fact, though I hasten to add that her contempt for the extremes of early music cant has long been among her refreshing virtues. But here her subtle and lively responses to Bach’s richly diverse stylistic palette are rewarding. She and Weiss are on strong form in the widely contrasting preludes of each suite, and in the reflective, abstract world of the sarabandes. Weiss, on the other hand, inclines more towards virtuosity than Verlet in some of the brisker movements; Verlet’s poised and delicate view of the Gigue of the B flat Partita affords an excellent instance of what I mean.

Providing a happy medium between the two in these and other respects is Trevor Pinnock’s recording for Hänssler (reviewed December 2000); and he, more than either newcomer, conveys the nobility on the one hand, and the virtuosity on the other, of the Sinfonia of the C minor Partita. There is also much of beguiling charm in Lucy Carolan’s recording (Signum) which I have been enjoying since its release a couple of years ago. All things considered, this is a difficult choice, but Verlet is perhaps the more consistently pleasing of the two.

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Nicholas Anderson