COMPOSERS: JS Bach
ALBUM TITLE: Complete French Suites
WORKS: Complete French Suites, BWV 812, 813, 814, 815m 816, 817
PERFORMER: Bernard Roberts (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: NI 5744-5
Bernard Roberts has made some admired recordings for Nimbus, particularly of Beethoven and Bach, and I wish I could be more enthusiastic about this latest offering from the same stable. It’s true that there’s some warm playing here – the Allemande of the B minor and E flat major Suites, or the Loure of the G major; but in the main these are rather staid, middle-of-the-road performances, with little apparent attempt to characterise the music or to tease out its inner lines. The general air of drabness is exacerbated by a slightly distant recording and by movement-pauses that are without exception too long.
If you enjoy these pieces on the piano, as I do, you’d do better to turn to Andrei Gavrilov (DG), or András Schiff. Gavrilov is a pianist of extremes – very slow and overtly Romantic in the remarkably beautiful Sarabande from the Sixth Suite, for instance, and astonishingly swift in the sparkling Gigue that concludes the Fifth – and he’s inclined to show off his finger-staccato; but his performances have a virtuosity of a kind that’s sadly lacking in Roberts’ accounts. Schiff is exemplary throughout, and both the spontaneity of his playing and the lightness and clarity of his touch enable the music to dance as it should. He also offers the substantial bonus of Bach’s Italian Concerto. Misha Donat