The last to be written, these six suites for harpsichord were the first to be published in Bachís lifetime. Their French influence is evident from the titles prefixed to the movements. In playing they must above all be redolent of a stately and elegant dance without sounding stiff or static.
Despite his facility in composers as wide-ranging as Beethoven, Chopin, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov, all available on Nimbus, Feltsman has primarily been a Bach specialist over his entire career. This 2 CD set is a re-issue under licence of discs originally on the Urtext Records label with the Two-part Inventions as a filler. Later it was made available again on Camerata in 2007.
Feltsman’s pacing overall is brisk, the total time of the
Partitas being about 120 minutes. There is no sense of undue haste
although just occasionally I felt that he rushes fences in his
trills. He habitually maintains a steady pulse in the fast movements
but uses plenty of rubato in the slow ones. Certainly there is
no lingering neither is there any sense of hurry. Itís just steady,
sensitive phrasing. As a result the Sarabandes are primarily lyrical
in the mode of a baroque aria with sonorous, singing tone and
lots of pedal, soulful pauses and poignantly drawn out ornaments
to convey a deep melancholy. It is those slow movements I enjoy
most in the playing here.
The Preludes are grand and stately; the opening to No.2 is decidedly tragic without undue emotionalism. Feltsman displays astonishing facility in the Ouverture to the D major, never pounding but always maintaining a direct, forceful thrust. We do not hear the steady, stoical concentration of Gould or the gentler lyricism of Perahia but rather something more of the juste milieu
between the two, sustaining a free, improvisatory mood. His interpretations are all of a piece in that they retain integrity by constantly reflecting and replicating throughout the characteristics I briefly adumbrate above. I find him more lively and brilliant than the rather stately and under-stated Angela Hewitt, or the delicate, urbane Richard Goode. So many great pianists have put their mark on these masterpieces and as usual the music proves itself the ultimate in plastic adaptability, accommodating each musicianís personal style in a manner that enables the listener to appreciate afresh its intrinsic beauty.
This is why I could not begin to express an overall preference for Feltsman over any other of the many interpretations available. I can however say that anyone buying his version is unlikely to be disappointed. Nimbus has once more given Feltsman beautiful, superbly balanced recorded sound. It is rich in sonority and finer than any of the others I sampled.
Ultimately the essential rightness, improvisatory freedom and rhythmic vitality of Feltsmanís account won me over.