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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
French Suites BWV 812-817 (c.1722)
Suite in E flat, BWV81a; Allemande and Menuets I and II [7:35]
Suite in A minor BWV818a; Menuet and Sarabande [5:10]
Colin Tilney (clavichord)
rec. June and September 2009, Phillip T. Young Recital Hall, University of Victoria, BC
MUSIC & ARTS CD-1268 [60:21 + 63:08]

Colin Tilney’s recording of Bach’s French Suites was made in June and September, 2009 and is now released by Music & Arts. Tilney plays an 1895 Dolmetsch five-octave unfretted clavichord, which is based on an instrument (or instruments) by the maker Johann Adolph Hass (1713-1771). This is not without importance to the success of the recital, given that there is a short note in booklet entitled ‘Listening to the clavichord’. This begins; ‘The clavichord is a very quiet instrument.’ It suggests that ‘minute adjustments...can make a subtle difference to the tone-colour.’ It was in this spirit that I played the disc at what I hope was an appropriate level.
 
Tilney himself locates these suites between ‘early virtuosity and late mastery’ and to them he brings a relaxed but masterly control of counterpoint, which is arguably enhanced by the clavichord’s shorter resonance. I certainly noted the varied articulation he produced, and the variegated colour he draws from the instrument. These include darker colorations for the slow movements, in particular the Courantes which he characterises with sensitivity. His articulation and finely judged ruabti enhance the Gigue finale of the C minor Suite. He retains textual authority at all times and brings to the Allemande of No.4 in E flat a rather beautifully expressive quality, although it remains unexaggerated in its naturalness, the phrasing being so unforced. For the corresponding movement in the Suite in G, he brings textual lightness, an aeration enhanced by subtle shifts of metric gravity and emphases. His playing of this suite, in particular, is distinguished.
 
In addition he plays selected movements from Suite in E flat, BWV81a and the Suite in A minor BWV818a.
 
Tilney here convinces one of the particular pleasures to be obtained playing such music on the clavichord, and it is his use of what he terms the instrument’s ‘unique expressive device’, namely vibrato, that characterises his performance as one that marries intimacy with refinement, and does so moreover in a truly unaffected but often affecting way.
 
Jonathan Woolf