Nelson Freire plays JS Bach keyboard works

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: Decca
ALBUM TITLE: JS Bach
WORKS: Partita No. 4; Toccata in C minor, BWV 911; English Suite No. 3; Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D minor; Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ, BWV 639; Komm, Gott Schöpfer, Heiliger Geist, BWV 667; Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BWV 659; Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring (arr. Hess), etc
PERFORMER: Nelson Freire (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: Decca 478 8449

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Nelson Freire hasn’t exactly been in a hurry to record this first disc devoted entirely to JS Bach. Perhaps he was saving it up as a 70th birthday present. Whatever, a pianist half his age could feel elated with the pin-sharp, dancing articulation that so often trips from Freire’s fingers. Not consistently, however. Liberally applied pedal and a certain garbled excitement conspire at times to work against optimal clarity.

The repertoire is thoughtfully chosen: four keyboard big-hitters (including a substantial youthful Toccata) are set alongside a transcription by Bach before the tables are turned and Bach himself is the subject of transcription. Whether in the velvety pianistic re-imaginings of Busoni, or Myra Hess’s iconic Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, Freire is in his element – some over-egged rubatos in Nun komm der Heiden Heiland aside. Jesu, Joy rolls around the ears like a fine Cognac in the mouth. The ‘straight’ Bach is more of a mixed bag though. While the D major Partita’s Courante is bursting with popping fanfare figuration, and its scampering Gigue is championed as a quirky cousin to that in the G major French Suite, Freire’s Allemande is a touch over-ruminative, and despite the lively left hand banter in the skipping pendant, the spiky French element in the opening of the Ouverture is under characterised. The Chromatic Fantasia, meanwhile, is powered by a stream of consciousness impatience discharged in a breathless fugue.

An uneven disc, dazzling one moment, questionable the next – but often illuminating and never dull.

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Paul Riley