JS Bach: The English Suites

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: JS Bach: The English Suites
WORKS: The English Suites
PERFORMER: Richard Egarr (harpsichord)
CATALOGUE NO: HMU907591/92

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Bach’s six English Suites have been undeservedly overshadowed by later large-scale keyboard works. In fact, they’re highly inventive and enchanting, as this compelling performance makes clear. Their Préludes set them apart. Richard Egarr opens No. 1 like a lutenist improvising, flexing his fingers and checking his tuning, before embarking on a thoughtful stream of deliberate quavers, unbroken until the final chord. The second Prélude is a spirited two-part ‘Invention’, while the following three are full-blooded Italianate concertos, played with exuberant urgency but subtly flexible, never overly driven. Prélude No. 6 is huge – nearly three times the length of the Italian Concerto’s first movement. Egarr’s energy and sustained vitality is breathtaking.

The dances are full of imaginative touches. Courantes range from a highly ambiguous pulse to the unequivocal triple time of the third Courante. In slower movements, Egarr’s ornaments have a delightfully improvised quality; in the first Sarabande, he provides a ‘double’ – a decorated version – for the repeats. Mordents in the third Gavotte become witty side-drum ‘flams’, while the final Gigue bounds along with (Egarr’s words) ‘diabolical trills… around which incessantly restless demons dance’.

Egarr displays an extraordinary tonal range, from harp-like resonance to transparency. The best harpsichord recital of these Suites on disc.

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George Pratt