Bach: Partitas Nos 1-6

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WORKS: Partitas Nos 1-6, BWV 825-830
PERFORMER: Vladimir Ashkenazy (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 478 2163


Vladimir Ashkenazy’s approach to this uniquely varied collection, sub-titled ‘for the soul’s delight’, is exceptionally non-interventionist. He sometimes capitalises on the ‘piano/forte’ potential of the modern instrument, indeed his emphasis on the florid bass of the first ‘Praeludium’ rather overwhelms the gentle quaver lines above. But the larger proportion of movements are played at a single dynamic, with little added phrasing, structuring or ornamentation.

Some decisions are questionable: most interpretations of the Adagio opening of No. 2 assume some added spiky dotting to compensate for the limited notational conventions of Bach’s time; the fifth Allemande, too, suggests the need for reconciling triplets and duplets; and Bach’s slurs were suggestive aide-memoires rather than authoritatively complete.

For many movements, Ashkenazy’s literal approach is highly effective. The pianistic Gigue of No. 1, a rip-roaring moto perpetuo, needs no added slurs as left hand leaps with incredible energy over right. The constant staccato of the first Menuet spares it from the addition of discovered melodic motifs which Bach probably didn’t intend. 

Ashkenazy’s dexterity is breathtaking. The bounding left hand of self-fulfilling sequences of the Capriccio and the breathless Gigue (No. 2) are thrilling, though the Corrente passes in rather a blur.

Many fast movements knock over a quarter of the time off Hewitt and Schiff, neither of them noted slouches. At the other extreme, Ashkenazy is intensely sensitive: the utter simplicity of the fourth Sarabande, and the introspective reverie of the fifth are heavenly. 


A fascinating opportunity for direct access to Bach, with minimal obstruction from his interpreter. George Pratt