6 Partitas, BWV 825-830
Asako Ogawa (harpsichord)
First Hand Records FHR92 150:30 mins (2 discs)
Asako Ogawa is a noted soloist and continuo player, and is also a Baroque coach at the Guildhall; the people she has studied with include Laurence Cummings and Steven Devine – she therefore comes with the best credentials. Yet by the time I had listened to the first 30 minutes of this recording, I had taken against her. The opening Praeludium was clean and unfussy, and the first Allemande had hints of pensive rubato, but her playing seemed to have no heart. The first Sarabande had no plangency, and the operatic sweep of the first Sinfonia was reduced to a stilted froideur; in the Allemande of the second Partita, expressiveness was replaced by the careful plod of a teaching exercise. The prospect of two more hours of that didn’t bode well.
But as the second Partita progressed, she began to loosen up, revealing rhythmic subtlety and a refined control of tone-colour. And with the Ouverture to Partita No. 4 – placed next in the sequence on this double disc, and coming over as a sustained fantasy – I realised that Ogawa’s soundworld was a place where I was very happy to live. From this point on her playing radiated excitement, and a vivid sense of the character of each individual piece. Her liner note speaks of these Partitas as reflecting the ‘laughter and tears’ of Bach’s own life during the period when he wrote them, and that was the impression her recording leaves in the mind. Particular pleasures include the Gavottes, the Sarabandes in Partitas 3 and 4, the lovely breadth and grandeur of the closing Toccata and the graceful treatment of the final Gigue, which many other pianists turn into a circus act.