Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
András Schiff Plays Bach
French Suites Nos. 1-6, BWV 812-817
Overture (Partita) in the French Style in B minor, BWV 831
Concerto in the Italian Style in F major, BWV 971, "Italian Concerto"
Bonus: András Schiff Explains Bach
András Schiff, piano
Rec: Protestant Church of Leipzig, 11 June 2010.
Picture format 16:9, 1080p; Sound format LPCM stereo, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; Subtitles (bonus) EN, DE, FR; Region Code 0 (Worldwide).
EUROARTS 2058134 [134 min. + 34 min.]
 
Among Bach’s collections of keyboard works, the French Suites may be the most easily accessible to those unfamiliar with this style of music. They were the first of Bach’s sets of works that I really understood, and I listen to them with great pleasure over and over in a variety of interpretations, both on harpsichord and piano. Less technically demanding than other such works, like the Partitas, the French Suites nevertheless contain some of Bach’s most attractive music for keyboard.
 
This disc features eminent Bach interpreter András Schiff playing all six French suites live, and also playing the French Overture (technically a partita) and the Italian Concerto. Recorded in the intimate Protestant Church of Liepzig, on a Steinway grand piano. The piano sounds silky and reverberant, and the camera angles are generally tight, with close-ups on Schiff’s hands and face as he plays. Interestingly, all of the cameras are on the “stage”, and there are no shots from the point of view of the audience. This church holds only a couple hundred people, and this approach to filming the concert adds to the intimate nature of the work.
 
Schiff’s performances are, as expected, profound, masterful, and not flashy at all. While he ornaments the works creatively, he doesn’t exaggerate. He is sometimes serious, sometimes playful, yet it’s clear just how much he understands and appreciates this music. (In the accompanying interview, he says he starts each day playing Bach for an hour.) Interestingly, there is no applause after each of the suites, but only after the end of the series of the French Suites, then again after the French Overture, and at the end of the concert. It is interesting to watch Schiff perform all six of the French Suites without the disturbance of applause; this reinforces the fact that they are a series of related works, as opposed to six separate works.
 
The bonus is a half-hour interview with Schiff sitting in the church leisurely discussing Bach’s life, and the French Suites in particular. It’s certainly an interesting interview to listen to, if you don’t know much about Bach or these works, and Schiff shows his knowledge of Bach’s works and his love for this music.
 
This is a wonderful performance of the French Suites, well filmed, with excellent sound, in a small, attractive setting. Any lover of these works simply must get this disc to be able to see and hear András Schiff, one of today’s finest Bach interpreters on the piano, play these works that he seems to love so well.
 
 
 
Kirk McElhearn writes about more than just music on his blog Kirkville (http://www.mcelhearn.com).
 
An intimate concert, filmed in a subtle manner, excellent sound, and a master performing Bach’s French Suites.