JS Bach: Partita No. 2, BMV 826; Partita No. 3, BMV 827; Partita No. 4, BMV 828

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COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi and BIS
ALBUM TITLE: JS Bach: Partitas
WORKS: Partita No. 2, BMV 826; Partita No. 3, BMV 827; Partita No. 4, BMV 828
PERFORMER: Cedric Tiberghien (piano) and Freddy Kempf (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 901869 and CD-1330
Bach’s six harpsichord Partitas are highly sophisticated pieces whose stylistic diversity and cosmopolitan language have long appealed to harpsichordists and pianists alike. Bach wears his formidable learning lightly, though, and the charm of this music is immediate and irresistible. Pianists Cédric Tiberghien and Freddy Kempf have strongly contrasting ideas about how to translate Bach’s music to the modern piano.

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Tiberghien, who has recently proved himself a fine Beethoven interpreter, offers pianists’ Bach over and above merely Bach on the piano. This 30-something French musician is technically accomplished and he is certainly able to take us beyond the written notes of Bach’s pieces. Yet, it seems to me that he does not always succeed in doing so and there is little here that struck my ears as being either as comfortably intuitive or as affectionate as recitals by Angela Hewitt or András Schiff. What I miss above all in Tiberghien’s recital is any sense of intimacy, either of thought or of sound. Did he really want such a dispiritingly spacious acoustic, bringing to mind a large deserted auditorium, for this gently inflected repertoire ‘composed for music-lovers to delight their spirits’? Or was this a decision thrust upon him by the record company? Whichever of the two, it is a misjudgement which forces upon players the necessity of relying too much upon extreme dynamic contrasts for effect.

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Freddy Kempf is the beneficiary of a more intimate and sympathetic acoustic belonging to a smallish sounding hall in Stockholm’s former Academy of Music. His playing, compared to Tiberghien’s, is generally more complementary to the spirit of Bach’s time, with clean ornaments, more restricted use of the sustaining pedal, and with commendable ability to maintain linear clarity within longer phrase units. Just occasionally, there are moments when his playing seems a little underpowered and a little short on character. Neither he nor Tiberghien, for instance, makes the most of the French Overture which introduces the Fourth Partita, and Kempf’s E minor Corrente, though beautifully executed, seems perfunctory at such a brisk tempo. But his is the more engaging recital on this occasion. Nicholas Anderson