Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Italian Concerto in F major BWV971 (1735) [11:58]
Partitas Nos. 1-6, BWV 825-830 (c.1717-1723)
Partita No.1 in B flat major BWV 825 - Praeludium; Sarabande; Menuet II-II; Giga only [8:31]
Partita No.5 in G major BWV 820 [13:59]
Partita No.6 in E minor BWV 829 [17:10]
French Suite No.5 in G major BWV 816 - Gigue [3:08]
Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben BWV 147 - Jesu bleibet meine Freude (1723) arranged Myra Hess [3:14]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata in D minor, Op. 31 No. 2 “The Tempest” (1801-02) [17:21]
Bagatelles Op.33 No.1 in E flat major [3:56]
Walter Gieseking (piano)
rec. 1931-40, London, New York and Berlin.
NAXOS 8.111353 [79:15]

A disc devoted to Gieseking’s Bach and Beethoven recordings is one that ploughs repertoire that may be unfamiliar to his more mainstream admirers, for whom he was the ne plus ultra, the bee’s pyjamas, of the French repertoire. Nevertheless this supposedly auxiliary repertoire - in fact it was in many ways central to him - reveals him as a luminously clarity-based exponent of Bach and even as a headstrong Beethovenian. The recordings were made between 1931 and 1940 in London, New York, Vienna and Berlin.

Given the occasionally inflated offerings from some of his contemporaries and indeed successors, his Bach evinces attention to detail without undue emphases. His Italian Concerto was recorded in Berlin in 1940. It treads a perfectly posed pathway between the Scylla and Charybdis of ebullience and asceticism. Things here, conversely, are naturally phrased, and the rhythm is buoyant, expression is discreet and apposite and never inflated. There is liveliness in the finale but it is of the playful and not pummelling variety. We can regret - but do nothing about - the torso that is the B flat major Partita. Only four movements were recorded - in Berlin and Vienna, in 1934 and in 1939 - so this remains a compromise and composite performance; two movements at a time five years apart in two different cities is no real substitute for an organic performance, but the natural directness of the playing remains unchanged, the focus on clarity too.

The fifth and sixth Partitas are, happily, complete, and were recorded in New York in 1939. Columbia’s New York studio was notably drier than the Austrian and German counterparts, and this imparts a less warm sound stage. It barely impinges however on the heart of the affair - playing of crisp, unostentatious clarity. The Sarabande of the G major and the Corrente of the E minor are particular highlights but it’s invidious to select from among so many. There’s a single movement from the French Suite No. 5, which was recorded at the same session that produced the Fifth Partita. His Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring isn’t as affecting as Hess or Lipatti but it’s noble enough in its own way.

Beethoven’s Tempest sonata was recorded in Central Hall, Westminster in London in 1931 and is the earliest inscription in this collection. The recording imparts something of a distance, but it’s not damaging. The performance itself is shorn of repeats in the outer movements but is otherwise driving, powerful and at times genuinely tumultuous. The sense of engagement and extroversion, of commitment, is palpable throughout.

It completes a notably fine selection, finely engineered and well annotated.

Jonathan Woolf
A notably fine selection, finely engineered ... see Full Review