Bach: Partitas

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: Sony
WORKS: Partitas: No. 1 in B flat, BWV 825; No. 5 in G, BWV 829; No. 6 in E minor, BWV 830
PERFORMER: Murray Perahia (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 88697443612

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Bach took immense pains over the production of the six Partitas, announcing them in 1726, writing one a year until finally revising and publishing them in 1731 as his ‘Opus 1 – offered to music lovers to refresh their spirits’. This disc is Murray Perahia’s welcome completion of the set, following Nos 2-4 in 2008. 

He brings to these three dance suites a remarkable sensitivity of touch. In the sparkling Gigue which ends No. 1, he maintains two perfectly balanced tonal levels as one hand bounds over the other. In the preceding Menuet he’s yet more subtle, adding strands and uncovering hidden motivic fragments with minute changes of weight and phrasing.

In the fifth Allemande, too, expressive details are beautifully understated. Throughout the dance-derived movements Perahia’s strict underlying pulse allows the slightest nuances of tempo to make their point.

Only in the floridly decorated texture of the sixth Sarabande does this internal metronome falter for a moment and hurry on. I particularly enjoyed Perahia’s empathy with Bach’s wit – the angular fugue subject which permeates the sixth gigue; the fifth Minuetto so rhythmically crossed that it’s impossible to hear in 3/4 time until the ear is rescued by the cadences – and then reassured further by a minuet-like Passepied.

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The piano tone is crisp, but warmed by the studio’s acoustic. Much as I’ve admired Angela Hewitt’s fine account (Hyperion), Perahia’s poise, subtlety and technique make this and its earlier companion no less a recording to cherish. George Pratt