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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Partita No. 2 in C minor, BWV826 (1727) [20:56]
Partita No. 3 in A minor, BWV827 (1725) [18:54]
Partita No. 4 in D major, BWV828 [1728) [31:59]
Murray Perahia (piano)
rec. 1-7 June and 13-17 November 2007, Saal 1, Rundfunkzentrum, Berlin
SONY CLASSICAL 88697226952


Experience Classicsonline

I’ve long been a great admirer of Murray Perahia, whose fastidious and tasteful approach to music-making is much to my taste. Just as much to my taste is the use of the piano for Bach’s keyboard music and over the last few years I’ve bought and derived great pleasure from several of Perahia’s previous Bach recordings, including English Suites 1, 3, 6 (1997, on SK60276); English Suites 2, 4, 5 (1998, on SK60277) and his 2000 traversal of the Goldberg Variations (SK89243) All these recordings were made in the same venue in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland but a new location has been used for this present recording.

It was only after completing my listening that I discovered the magisterial review by Christopher Howells of five different versions of the Goldberg Variations and I noted that he appreciated the “rhythmic life” of Perahia’s traversal of the variations. As we’ll see, rhythmic vitality is a strong feature of this new recording also.

Often I don’t pay much attention to the covers of CDs but on this occasion I did. The cover carries a head and shoulders picture of Murray Perahia. He’s immaculately turned out in a dark blue suit, a pale blue shirt and a red tie with a discreet pattern. It’s said that you can tell a lot about a person by their appearance and in this case it may well be true. Perahia, as pictured, comes across as stylish, smart, neat and tasteful. I imagine he took some trouble over his appearance for the photograph but the effect looks effortless. All this is true of his pianism on this disc.

His accounts of all three Partitas strike me as being completely successful. In Number Two he imparts just the right amount of rhetoric into the grand opening of the Sinfonia and the two-part fugue that follows unfolds easily – the listener’s ear is led on very naturally. He shapes the Allemande very well, playing with relaxed clarity, and his account of the Sarabande has limpid grace. The concluding Capriccio, which anticipates the material of the first movement of the Italian Concerto, has irresistible momentum thanks to Perahia’s immaculate fingerwork.

In the Third Partita the Allemande is poised and I much admired Perahia’s subtle use of rubato and his delicate shading, all of which invests Bach’s music with great interest. There’s crystal clarity in the Courante while the Sarabande that follows is calm and measured. Perahia makes the Burlesca rhythmically vital, accenting the music strongly. Annotator Julian Haylock refers to the “fugal inexorability” of the concluding Gigue and Perahia delivers a lithe, sparkling account of this movement.

The Fourth Partita is the grandest of this trio. The extended Ouverture is florid and stately at the start. Perahia gives full value to its rhetorical flourishes yet maintains forward momentum. The 9/8 allegro is beautifully light on its feet and here, as elsewhere on the disc, Perahia clarifies the part writing effortlessly. The Allemande that follows is an even longer movement (9:20 in this performance). Perahia spins the melodic line eloquently and graciously in the right hand while the left hand bass line is perfectly balanced. Then one is ready for the leaping energy of the Courante and Perahia doesn’t disappoint. He achieves repose in the Sarabande - yet again I’ve written the word “grace” in my listening notes – and everything is perfectly proportioned. The dexterity and drive that he brings to the final Gigue brings the Partita to an exhilarating end.

I found this disc an envigorating experience from start to finish and I hope Perahia will soon record the remaining three Partitas. Julian Haylock reminds us that Bach described the Partitas as “galanteries composed for music lovers to delight their spirits.” Well, in this hugely enjoyable and immaculately executed recital Murray Perahia does indeed delight our spirits. The engineers have captured his playing in very truthful, pleasing sound. This is a Bach recital to savour.

John Quinn




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