Harpsichordist Richard Egarr does justice to JS Bach’s Complete Partitas

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COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: JS Bach
WORKS: Partitas Nos 1-6
PERFORMER: Richard Egarr (harpsichord)
CATALOGUE NO: HMM 907593-94

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Bach issued his six Partitas for solo harpsichord at the rate of one a year, between 1726 and 1731 when he brought out the six together as his Opus 1. It was, of course, nothing of the kind but it was Bach’s first published work since the cantata Gott ist mein König in 1708 and the first indication, perhaps, of his wish to preserve his music for posterity and of his intention, implicit in the designation Opus 1, to commit further works to print.

The Partitas seem to have been an immediate success, possessing an expressive immediacy which has always endeared them to performers and audiences alike. Richard Egarr conveys both the enormous charm of these pieces as well as revelling in Bach’s diverse stylistic palette. Here ideas, gestures and patterns mainly from Italy and France lend colour and character to those of Germany’s indigenous traditions. While Bach in all but one instance adopts the movement sequence of the classical suite, he prefaces them each with a movement demonstrating his profound mastery of disparate styles.

Egarr brings these styles to life with warmth and technical fluency. His phrasing is effectively punctuated and his declamation unhurried, allowing us to savour the music’s intimately conversational character, above all in the allemandes. His ornaments are mainly judicious and discreet though sometimes I felt they were surplus to requirements. Among the many splendid things here, the technically demanding C minor Capriccio of the second Partita and the lyrically reflective D major Allemande of the fourth deserve mention. Do I detect a fleeting likeness to Bach himself, in Egarr’s own front cover photograph? Yes, I do!

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Nicholas Anderson