WORKS: Keyboard Concerto in D minor, BWV 1052; Keyboard Concerto in E, BWV 1053; Keyboard Concerto in A, BWV 1055
PERFORMER: Academy of St Martin in the Fields/Murray Perahia (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: SK 89245
Bach’s grandest keyboard concerto, the D minor, is a work of measured austerity. For those of us brought up on darkly noble piano performances, such as Schiff’s (Decca), or on the buzzing harpsichord readings by such as Trevor Pinnock, it was the music’s structural and harmonic severity that gave pleasure. Murray Perahia’s performance here changes all that: with every beautifully turned phrase, the music dances off the page. This is playing of astonishing vitality and grace, and the ASMF, clearly inspired by Perahia as director, rises to the occasion with infectious excitement. The Chamber Orchestra of Europe which accompanies Schiff in his 1990 versions sounds thin and polite in comparison, and Schiff himself leans a touch heavily into the down-beats in a way I’d not noticed before hearing Perahia’s flight of genius – every downbeat here lifts skywards.
What is more, the two smaller concertos on the disc, which always seemed lesser works, are revealed afresh as irresistibly delightful. Perahia plays the Siciliano of the E major, BWV 1053, with uninhibited tenderness, making other versions sound half-hearted, and almost trips up with zest in the rumbustious finale. A set of manuscript parts survive for the Concerto in A major, BWV 1055, showing that Bach envisioned a continuo group apart from the harpsichord, containing its own chordal instrument – here realised by a theorbo. Some may find the discreet twang strange at first but it gives an arresting colour to the texture; some may even flinch at the odd clicking fingernail from Perahia – to me, they merely add distinction to this wonderful new benchmark recording.