Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
The English Suites
CD 1 [61:38]
No.1 in A major BWV806 [18:57]
No.2 in A minor BWV807 [22:01]
No.3 in G minor BWV808 [20:20]
CD 2 [70:35]
No.4 in F major BWV809 [23:11]
No.5 in E minor BWV810 [21:40]
No.6 in D minor BWV811 [26:56]
Vladimir Feltsman (piano)
rec. 14-15 December, 2005, Fischer Performing Arts Center at Bard College NY
NIMBUS ALLIANCE NI6176 [61:38 + 70:35]
Having been very impressed by Feltsman’s “A Tribute to Rachmaninov”, I was eager to hear him play a very different composer. My only previous experience of this music was the recording by Glenn Gould which, like many of that wayward genius’s recordings, remains hors concours.
Feltsman seems to me to be a pianist without mannerisms: his touch is buoyant and his articulation clean but he does not play mechanically: he is unafraid to make tiny rallentandos without wallowing. He is neither coolly cerebral nor incongruously indulgent but allows the music to breathe naturally. Everything is done in the best possible taste; thus repeats are elegantly but not flashily ornamented. His impeccable technique permits him to make everything sound easy so that Bach’s irrepressible moto perpetuo movements such as the opening Prélude to Suite No.2 are wonderfully exuberant, then the stately Allemande which follows is poised and recollected but at the same time deeply soulful.
Feltsman is not one to exploit unduly the tonal colours of the piano: pedalling is restrained and he is always mindful to accentuate the French elegance of these suites, their title notwithstanding – indeed, no-one is quite clear how these pieces gained their sobriquet. They are, to quote from Feltsman’s own full and highly informative liner-notes, “Bach’s first large- scale experiment in combining imitative counterpoint with the well established forms and idioms of gallant dances” and although some of his tempi are rather sprightly to retain their links with their terpsichorean origins, one cannot argue with Feltsman’s feeling for how the music should go.
While this is not music on quite the same level as Bach’s supreme masterpieces, its wit, energy, variety and invention mark it out as a real departure for the thirty-year-old composer; it is hard to imagine better advocacy than Feltsman gives it here. The Third Suite, in particular is extraordinarily subtle and complex, centring on a Sarabande of mysterious beauty.
The recording by Nimbus is of irreproachable quality: warm, sonorous and spacious with just a welcome hint of reverberation.
  Ralph Moore
Hard to imagine better advocacy than that from Feltsman.