Zhu Xiao-Mei performs JS Bach’s French Suites

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LABELS: Accentus
WORKS: French Suites Nos 1-6, BWV 812-817
PERFORMER: Zhu Xiao-Mei (piano)


Zhu Xiao-Mei’s long relationship with Bach dates back to the Cultural Revolution in China when she smuggled a spinet into a labour camp and played his music in secret. Though her past discography includes recordings of Mozart, Schubert and Schumann, these are already outweighed by her critically acclaimed Bach recordings, and her affinity with his idiom is everywhere palpable in this recording of the French Suites. On the CD cover, Xiao-Mei stands next to a work by Joan Miró, from whose words she takes her artistic credo: ‘To gain freedom is to gain simplicity’. Indeed, Miró’s visual re-creation of the childlike seems to have inspired Xiao-Mei’s joyful and ingenuous music-making.

Eschewing flashy showmanship, she focuses instead on drawing a limpid cantabile sound, and on making the rhythms dance: her Allemandes drift with liquid motion; sprightly Courantes offset poetic and delicately embellished Sarabandes, while her Gigues almost skip off the keyboard. Delightful, too, are the galanteries (fashionable dances added to the traditional four-movements): listen, for instance, to the playful Gavotte of the G major Suite, or the Loure – light as gossamer. Mei’s phrasing is beautifully tapered, lending a natural ebb and flow to the music. In short, these are honest and deeply affectionate performances, set to become a classic.

Kate Bolton-Porciatti


Listen to an excerpt of this recording here.