JS Bach: Inventions & Sinfonias; French Suite No. 5

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COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: ECM
WORKS: Inventions & Sinfonias; French Suite No. 5
PERFORMER: Till Fellner (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 476 6355

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Most piano students have been given at least some of the two- and three-part inventions to learn. Bach wrote them for his eldest son Wilhelm Friedemann and his introduction refers to ‘learning to play cleanly in two [and later] three obbligato parts’ and ‘to cultivate a cantabile style of playing’.

Fellner achieves all Bach could ask in both respects from a sparkling finger-staccato for the D minor Invention to finely balanced part-playing in the D minor Sinfonia, constantly guiding the ear from one line to another.

Most impressive is the yearning F minor Sinfonia, virtually every note derived from one of three germinal motifs (including the B-A-C-H theme hidden in various transpositions). Compared with harpsichord, extended trills are particularly difficult to moderate on piano (and clavichord). Fellner restrains them delicately in both his right and left hands (Inventions 3, 4 and 10).

In places, his quest for a totally ‘cantabile style of playing’ leads him to blanket the music in a mist of half-pedalling, falsely imbuing Vienna’s Mozartsaal with an almost bathroom acoustic. Only this leads me to look out Angela Hewitt’s 1994 recital.

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While the French Suite is more expansive, close recording creates an intimate sharing of these astonishing exercises. George Pratt