Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Partita No. 1 in B flat Major, BWV 825 [21:19]
Partita No. 2 in C minor, BWV 826 [22:38]
Partita No. 4 in D Major, BWV 828 [34:41]
Partita No. 3 in A minor, BWV 827 [21:49]
Partita No. 5 in G Major, BWV 829 [23:23]
Partita No. 6 in E minor, BWV 830 [32:35]
Malcolm Proud (harpsichord)
rec. 10-12 December 2012, Leuven Institute for Ireland in Europe.
MAYA RECORDINGS MCD 1301 [78:52 + 78:01]
Bach composed three sets of keyboard suites, culminating
in the Partitas. Not only are they more elaborate and technically challenging
than the English and French Suites, but they offer both player and listener
a more sumptuously rich experience. Furthermore, it is curious that
it was the last set of keyboard works he wrote, yet was the first to
be published, under his direction, as Clavier-Ubung 1 (keyboard
practice). The Partitas were published individually between 1726 and
1730, then together as his Op. 1 in 1731.
There is a trend these days to perform Bach keyboard works almost exclusively
on the piano. My familiarity with the Partitas has been almost completely
with piano versions by such performers as Gould, Hewitt, Schiff, Perahia,
Goode and Tureck though I do possess the Kirkpatrick and Pinnock harpsichord
versions. There is a compelling case for authentic performance of these
works. After all, the piano was still only in its early stages of development
when Bach was around. It was left to his son C.P.E. Bach to realize
the piano’s full potential. Hence, the piano and the harpsichord
offer a different dimension, and are both equally valid. Some would
even argue that the very nature and mechanics of the harpsichord are
more conducive to achieving greater precision and clarity in the delineation
of the several contrapuntal strands.
Malcolm Proud was born in Dublin. He studied with Gustav Leonhardt in
Amsterdam. In 1982, he won first prize at the Edinburgh International
Harpsichord Competition. Since then he has made an international career,
performing in Europe, North America and Japan. He has been associated
with the English Baroque Soloists, the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment
and the Academy of Ancient Music.
These are very compelling and cultivated performances that Malcolm Proud
has on offer. Repeats are observed, and are tastefully ornamented. Articulation
and clarity are maintained throughout. The Allemandes of Partitas 1
and 4 were rather slow and ponderous, but otherwise tempi seem comfortable
and judiciously chosen. The Ouverture to Partita 4 has a sublime grandeur,
and curiously its Sarabande has been inserted between the Courante and
the Aria. This proves to be a very effective step, placing a slower
movement between two brisk ones, thus creating more of a contrast. The
Sarabandes form the emotional core of each work, and Proud renders each
with warmth and lyricism. The Gigues have a youthful exuberance and
sparkle, and are imbued with energy. All in all, Proud gets to the soul
of Bach with these performances.
The harpsichord used in this recording is a copy of a 1624 example by
Joannes Ruckers of Antwerp. It was built in 2007 by Kevin Fryer. I was
very enamoured of the full-blooded yet bright sound of this instrument.
The exceptional richness of timbre adds depth and clarity. The Leuven
Institute offers an ideal venue and acoustic. David Ledbetter’s
liner-notes set the context admirably. Those who are dubious about the
effectiveness of the harpsichord as opposed to the piano in these works,
should give these recordings a try. They have certainly won me over
and I shall be revisiting them often.