Johann Sebastian BACH (1686-1750)
The Partitas BWV825-830: Partita in the French Style BWV831 [131:17]
Italian Concerto BWV971 [12:52]
Chromatic fantasy and Fugue BWV903 [11:38]
Helmut Walcha (harpsichord)
DOREMI DHR7985-86 [76:43 + 79:54]
Few sets of Bach’s organ music were more admirable
than those of the blind German organist Helmut Walcha (1907-91). He
left behind two sets of the complete works and he also taped the most
important harpsichord works for EMI-Electrola. This two-CD release traces
some of the latter works in recordings made between 1957 and 1960.
Playing on an Ammer harpsichord, Walcha’s traversal of the six
Partitas, BWV825-830 and the B minor ‘in the French style’
BWV831 reveals his elevated, logical, direct and intellectually profound
penetration into the heart of the music. There are no extraneous gestures
and no frippery. Tempi are solid, unexaggerated, and wholly consonant
in the context of each partita and in the context of the partitas as
a whole. Finger clarity is assured, and articulation is varied but within
sure expressive boundaries.
As the Minuets of the B flat major Partita display, left hand
voicings are deftly but considerately pointed. Hand weight is balanced.
But the music is not under-characterised. The Burlesca of the
A minor Partita is certainly noted by Walcha but he doesn’t draw
excessive attention to it. Nor does he draw attention to his virtuosic
command in the opening Toccata of the E minor or his acutely
perceptive characterisation of each of the partita’s succeeding
There may be some who find the relative sobriety of his approach a little
reserved. But listening to the nobility of his performance of the Ouverture
of the D major or the darker colouration evoked in the similar movement
of the B minor one would be hard pressed to deny Walcha his sovereign
status in this music, still less when the echo effects of the last movement
of the B minor are pointed so sensibly.
There are two other works in this set, the first being the Italian Concerto
in a measured, controlled and highly communicative performances. And
then there’s a commensurately grand performance of the Chromatic
Fantasy and Fugue, though again, here, Walcha places his technical
command at the music’s service.
The sound of these discs is very attractive. The notes are brief. The
music-making lives long in the memory.