Rafal Blechacz explores JS Bach’s Italian Concerto in F and other works for piano

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COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: DG
ALBUM TITLE: JS Bach
WORKS: Italian Concerto in F; Partitas Nos 1 & 3; Four Duets; Fantasia & Fugue in A minor; Jesus bleibet meine Freude
PERFORMER: Rafal Blechacz (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 479 5534

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Rafal Blechacz is a pianist in love with his left hand. There are places in the Italian Concerto where Bach signals that it should dominate, but Blechacz more generally is inclined to seek out the byways and inner voices that lurk beneath a top line. The left hand often leads the ear, cherishing motivic snippets, highlighting an arresting harmonic progression, recalibrating the terms of discourse. It can be seductive, but it can also distract and undermine the Bachian bigger picture. In the Concerto, for example, Bach‘s distinctions between solo and ripieno can become blurred, though the prevailing crystalline articulation makes amends: the three layers of the Andante are sensitively managed at an ideal tempo forestalling maudlin indulgence, and the finale fairly fizzes.

This is the sometime Warsaw Chopin Competition winner’s first foray into Bach on disc, and the programme is mostly astutely chosen. As well as the ‘pops’ there are the relatively little-known ‘Duetti’ from Clavier-Übung III, often austere, enigmatic, and the A minor Fantasia and Fugue, the latter taken at a lick that just about works (just!) unlike the B flat Partita’s Gigue which takes no hostages in its whirligig velocity. At least its cousin in the A minor Partita – muscular, exhilaratingly voiced, contrapuntally lucid – isn’t thrown away. But there the disc should have ended. Without the buffer of concert applause, Myra Hess’s arrangement of Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring appears an out-of-place encore on a disc that both bedazzles and bemuses.

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Paul Riley