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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Six Partitas BWV825-30
CD 1
Partita No. 5 in G major [19:46]
Partita No. 3 in a minor [16:25]
Partita No. 1 in B-flat major [16:50]
CD 2
Partita No. 2 in c minor [18:39]
Partita No. 4 in D major [28:58]
Partita No. 6 in e minor [30:37]
András Schiff (piano)
rec. live, 21 September 2007, Historischer Reitstadel, Neumarkt
ECM 2001-2 (476 6991) [72:14 + 60:50]
Experience Classicsonline

This disc is something very special indeed. Twenty-five years after recording the Partitas in the studio for Decca, Schiff returns to them in a live recording from the wonderfully intimate acoustic of the Neumarkt Reitstadel. The performances radiate such warmth, spontaneity and joy as to reinforce one’s beliefs in Schiff, Bach and the power of music as a whole.

One of the things that makes this recording unique is Schiff’s reordering of the works. He points out in the CD booklet that Bach would never have dreamt of hearing all of the Partitas performed in order on one evening, so there is no reason to be historically uncomfortable with this. He orders them according to descending keys: G - a - B flat - c - D - e. “Each major key is followed by a minor key, and the partita with the greatest musical substance forms the final capstone.” It’s very effective and, if anything, makes for a more satisfying musical experience than simply listening to them in order, starting with the cheerful fifth partita, working through to the craggy grandeur of the sixth which finally slips from E minor into G major.

Schiff clearly thrives on the excitement of the live event: there is a sense of the unrepeatable about this disc, as if you are eavesdropping on a private recital that can only happen once. This stamps these works with a sense of love and sheer affection that really make them come alive. Schiff’s technique is as assured as ever: every note of this music has been in his blood for decades and he brings acres of experience to bear on each bar. The unaffected simplicity of the opening Praeludium of the B flat is like a sorbet after the heavier textures of the A minor gigue. The filigree lightness of the Allemande that follows feels like it is like floating in midair. To so successfully go on to play the gorgeously expansive Sarabande is a tribute to Schiff’s great artistry. The c minor partita has solemnity coupled with remarkable delicacy, while the D major combines grandeur and subtlety with remarkable artistry. The final partita has a remarkable sense of scale to it, the final gigue sounding massive, almost titanic until that final E major chord which comes with an undeniable sense of journey’s end.

As a recital or as a sheer display of great music making this is hard to beat. It is a testament to the great relationship that ECM - who recently won a Gramophone Award for label of the year - have with their artists that this record was made at all, never mind the sense of warmth and affection that permeates every note. The sound is close and warm without ever being clinical and it all provides a tremendously satisfying experience. I repeat: a very special disc.

Simon Thompson



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