Johann Sebastian BACH
French Suite no. 1 in D minor, BWV 812 [21:07]
French Suite no. 2 in C minor, BWV 813 [15:03]
French Suite no. 3 in B minor, BWV 814 [16:52]
French Suite no. 4 in E flat major, BWV 815 [17:14]
French Suite no. 5 in G major, BWV 816 [17:53]
French Suite no. 6 in E major, BWV 817 [17:42]
Toccata in E minor, BWV 914 [7:33]
Partita No. 2 in C minor, BWV 826 [20:02]
Andrea Bacchetti (piano)
rec. March 2011, Fazioli Concert Hall, Sacile
SONY CLASSICAL 88691965102 [70:26 + 63:10]
Andrea Bacchetti’s Decca recording of Bach’s English
Suites has been around for a few years now (see review),
and is still one of my preferred piano versions of these works.
Now it is joined by another two disc Bach set, this time on
the Sony label, and of the French Suites along with a
few extras to make for decently respectable playing duration.
Bacchetti’s location for his solo recordings is more often
than not the Fazioli Concert Hall in Secile, and with another
Bach expert who favours Fazioli instruments in Angela Hewitt
it was inevitable that I would reach for her big
box of Bach by way of comparison. Hewitt’s non-pedal
clarity allied to a remarkable sense of line and sensitivity
of touch is always a draw, and with the French Suites
there is also a timing and restraint in her ornamentation which
raises each of the movements into fragrant slices of poetic
This is a hard act to follow, and there are of course other
names which have to be mentioned. Glenn Gould is exciting and
marvellous in my opinion, but also such a unique case that he
has to exist almost in his own bubble of Glenn Gould-ness -
influential perhaps, but also inimitable. András Schiff
on Decca is also a leading contender, though I’ve become
less enamoured of the rubato undulations in his playing over
the years, and while his playing is very fine I don’t
hear the same sense of communication as from Hewitt. Gorgeous
recordings from other such as Andrei Gavrilov on Deutsche Grammophon
take up the slack for listeners who prefer a lusher piano sound
with some subtle use of the sustaining pedal, and nothing wrong
with that, at least not in this case. There is the other category
of player which seems determined to torture the rhythm of the
music as much as possible and in every bar, and alas, Wolfgang
Rübsam on Naxos is well-nigh unlistenable for this reason.
So, where does Andrea Bacchetti sit amidst this pantheon of
the great and the ghastly? His opening Allemande from
the Suite No. 1 declares a lyrical approach, far removed
from Gould, and richer in texture than Hewitt or Schiff. This
warmth of expression is allied with superb evenness of touch
and rhythmic pace - by no means machine-like, but always stable.
Bacchetti can take elements from Gould’s playing, and
you can hear some sharper articulation in the second movement
Courante which invites comparison. Bacchetti is almost
exactly twice as slow as Gould in this movement however, something
which allows him to play with dotted rhythms and a greater sense
of variation in this and many of Bach’s other miniature
worlds. You don’t have the feeling of the music dragging,
as Bacchetti keeps up the rhythmic energy and an uplifting sense
of the music always being expressed and enhanced rather than
rendered and overcooked. His ornamentation is effective and
elegantly restrained, by no means interfering with Bach’s
melodic shapes or counterpoint.
The crucial Sarabande movements are the emotional heart
of each Suite, and Bacchetti moves the listener by allowing
the music to speak for itself, but also allowing his instrument
to sing in its most natural way. More often than not he somehow
manages to make the subsequent Menuet movements sound
almost equally beautiful, extending the atmosphere of the slow
movement, and somehow allowing its resonances to permeate and
linger beyond its actual duration, like the memory of a smile.
The Gigue movements have their dance quality, though
Bacchetti rarely lets his hair down. There is contrast enough
though, with a lively Courante in the Suite No. 3
and other more forcefully delivered movements. This is music
which allows all facets of the pianists’ art to shine,
and Bacchetti is very much on top of his game in this recording.
CD 2 brings further riches, and though the tempo of the Gavotte
in the Suite No. 5 might initially appear to be a little
under the expected tempo the performance fits right in with
the sense of air and openness Bacchetti gives to these pieces.
The final famous Gigue has wonderful energy. The French
Suite No. 6 comes from a different session to the others,
with a little shift to the left in terms of stereo balance.
It is in fact the same recording as that to be found on Bacchetti’s
recording of the Two-Part Inventions & Sinfonias
on the Dynamic label (see review).
This mild shift is nothing to concern even dedicated headphone
listeners like myself, and the performance is another generous
gift for serious Bach fans.
Listed as ‘Bonus Tracks’, the extra music further
revisits the Partita No. 2 BWV 826,which we’ve
also already heard on that aforementioned Dynamic disc but is
in this case a different recording, with a slightly slower Allemande.
This Sony recording marginally closer and perhaps the more lively
and interesting sounding of the two, but with a near enough
identical timings between the two versions there isn’t
a great deal to choose between them. My comments on the Courante
in the Partita are less applicable in this more recent
recording, for while the ornamentation is still pretty intense
and the tempo is similar there is a greater sense of control.
The Toccata BWV 914 is delicious, and a substantial extra
morsel to add to the mixture. The alternative for this is on
Bacchetti’s release of the complete Tocattas (see
where the works are presented with separate tracks for each
section rather than the single track we have here. Again there
is little to choose between the versions, the later recording
a touch more compact, and with a significantly swifter final
Fuga a 3 accounting for a reduction of about 1 minute
in terms of overall timing.
Andrea Bacchetti’s Bach recordings are almost invariably
something rather special, and this set of The French Suites
is a recording to keep alongside the best. With decent notes
on the music and the artist to go along with piano sound of
vibrant and colourful high quality, this is the kind of refreshingly
honest Bach which can refresh the soul and enhance your day