JS Bach • Bartók
JS Bach: French Suite No. 5, BWV 816; Partita No. 2, BWV 826; Bartók: Out of Doors; Suite, Op. 14
Julien Libeer (piano)
Harmonia Mundi HMM 902651 62.37 mins
The Belgian pianist Julien Libeer, a sometime protégé of Maria João Pires among other mentors, here brings together suites by Bach and Bartók, perhaps highlighting the long influence of the first and the deep-rooted heritage of the second. Libeer alternates the composers’ suites, club sandwich-fashion, and the pairing, while certainly interesting, can be a bit of a jolt: you’ve settled happily into the ambience of one when the suite ends and the other world springs into life. One might be left wondering if a whole disc devoted to each might have been more satisfying. It’s nevertheless a striking tribute to Libeer’s ability to conjure up different atmospheres that this contrast makes such an impression.
Indeed, it’s almost impossible to fault his playing – unless, of course, you are deeply allergic to Bach on the modern piano (which I’m not). He brings the G major French Suite and the Partita No. 2 the full complement of the piano’s advantages – a wonderfully cantabile touch, carefully wrought dynamic contrasts, judicious use of the pedal for expression – and the performance never becomes unidiomatic, applying improvised embellishments on repeats and maintaining exemplary clarity. The Bartók suites, with their uniquely unsettling mixture of earthy dance rhythms and eerie nocturnal rustles and shivers, have the same sense of minute attention to detail and intensity of focus; tone quality is full and rich, with voices vividly layered and colours plentiful.
The recorded sound is superb and makes the most of the performance’s mix of defined character and technical perfectionism.