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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Works for Solo Keyboard

Partita No. 2 in C minor, BWV 826 [21:10]
Partita No. 3 in A minor, BWV 827 [18:53]
Partita No. 4 in D major, BWV 828 [37:26]
Cédric Tiberghien, piano
Recorded Teldex Studio Berlin, August 2004. DDD
Released October 2005
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC 901869 [77:40]

Argerich/DG (no. 2 only), Gould/Sony, Hewitt/Hyperion,
Rangell/Dorian, Rübsam/Naxos, Tureck/Philips

Cédric Tiberghien is a young French pianist who has already recorded Beethoven, Grieg, Schumann and Debussy for Harmonia Mundi. Tiberghien's Bach is my first acquaintance with his playing, and he certainly has much to offer. His virtuosity and dexterity are never in doubt as he handles Bach's fast movements such as the Courantes and Gigues with aplomb and great energy. Tiberghien also displays an expert balance between upper and lower voices; both his detail and clarity are quite impressive. In addition, he well connects with Bach's lyricism, rhythmic flow, and overall sound-world.

However, the disc also reveals two major problems. One concerns the Bach Allemandes and Sarabandes which are standard movements in each of the Partitas. These movements demand that players put their 'hearts and souls' into music that possesses great poignancy and alternates between spiritual enrichment and a landscape of bleakness. Playing them at a quick pace tends to trivialize the musical arguments, but playing slower than the norm can also weaken their impact.

Let's use the example of the Allemande from the Partita in D major. In most recorded performances, this Allemande takes between 8 and 9 minutes. Tiberghien extends the music to about 11 minutes. For such a slow pace to be effective, the performance must be more probing and emotionally rich than faster versions and/or offer alternative musical arguments through the use of articulation, dynamics, and accenting. Pianists such as Rosalyn Tureck and Wolfgang Rübsam are experts in this area. Unfortunately, Tiberghien merely plays the piece at a slower speed, resulting in music that exhibits much inertia and saps its stateliness and progression. Since he essentially does nothing with the additional 2 minutes, it becomes wasted time and disc space. Of course, this impacts the entire movement and makes it difficult to endure.

The second problem involves a soundstage that 'swims with the fishes'. Overly wet and reverberant, this type of sound might not be very damaging for performances that are strong on horizontal expressiveness, but it is contrary to the concentrated playing style of Tiberghien. Essentially, the playing and soundstage are at odds, robbing the recorded performances of their bite and inevitability.

In summary, the wrong sonics and unimpressive Allemandes and Sarabandes make it impossible for me to recommend this premium-priced Bach disc. It does have its virtues, but the recorded competition is overwhelming. If you like probing accounts, look no further than Tureck on a 2-CD Philips set. If maximum creativity is your preference, Rübsam's interpretations should delight and illuminate your perception; Rangell's performances are also illuminating but not as distinctive as Rübsam's. Then there's the magnificent set from Glenn Gould and the affectionate readings of Angela Hewitt. Tiberghien does not measure up to these alternatives.

Don Satz



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