JS Bach’s Partitas Nos 1-6 performed by pianist Charles Owen

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COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: Avie
ALBUM TITLE: JS Bach
WORKS: Partitas Nos 1-6
PERFORMER: Charles Owen (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: AV 2366

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Tackling Bach’s keyboard music on the piano always requires a certain philosophical standpoint from which to start. The one that Charles Owen seems to take is well proven and generally reliable: keeping expression within careful parameters of volume and resonance, concentrating on purity and clarity rather than excessively imaginative reinterpretation, and, while not attempting to imitate a harpsichord, also avoiding the trap of imagining Bach a 19th-century composer. Yet the Partitas contain some of Johann Sebastian’s most ingenious keyboard writing. For instance, the glittery Gigue in the Partita No. 1 with its rapid hand-crossing, the leaps in the Capriccio finale of No. 2 or the florid, meditative Allemande of No. 4 all set the instrument up far beyond any supposed boundaries.

Owen approaches the dance rhythms with rigour; every tempo feels carefully judged, and this is matched with ideal structural awareness, the paragraphs and their twists and turns gently delineated as if in conversation. Nothing is exaggerated: Owen applies the characterisations with subtlety, as if pointing them out rather than projecting them towards any nominal balcony and controlling them chiefly through minute adjustments of tone.

If anything he errs a little on the side of the straightlaced – here and there one might wish he’d go for something slightly more expansive or exuberant – but happily there is no shortage of warmth. Recorded sound quality is close, if a little bit dry.

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Jessica Duchen