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JS Bach: Partitas Nos. 1-6

Menno van Delft (Resonus)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

JS Bach Partitas Nos. 1-6, BWV825-830
Menno van Delft (clavichord)
Resonus RES10212 133:32 mins (2 discs)

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Here are performances of Bach’s six keyboard Partitas with a difference, for Menno van Delft plays neither harpsichord nor any manifestation of piano but the softly spoken clavichord. Bach’s earliest biographer Johann Nikolaus Forkel asserted that the clavichord was the composer’s favourite keyboard instrument. Be that as it may, the composer has left us with no music specifically composed for it. Nevertheless, this percussive instrument is well- suited to some of Bach’s pieces as well as enabling a performer to communicate with greater expressive intimacy and individuality than on a harpsichord.

For the most part, I find Menno van Delft’s case for the clavichord convincing, though the uppermost register too often comes over as tonally restrictive. This is not a reflection on the recorded sound which is excellent, but simply a small limitation imposed by the instrument on some of Bach’s most technically challenging and expressively wide-ranging keyboard palette. Van Delft favours moderate tempos which allow the music to breathe comfortably. The ‘Allemande’ of the B flat Partita provides a particularly happy instance of his expressive understanding of the piece, in which here as throughout this recording he eschews anything in the nature of rhythmic rigidity.

In short there is nothing routine or matter of fact in van Delft’s inflective dialogue with Bach. Readers may not wish to part company with their harpsichord or piano versions, but they are unlikely to be other than captivated by playing of this order. As Bach himself charmingly remarked on the title page of the collection, published in 1731, he had written these wonderfully varied pieces to refresh the spirits of music lovers. Van Delft has provided his own booklet essay which is thoughtful and well-informed.

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Nicholas Anderson