Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
French Suites
No. 1 in D minor BWV 812 [15:47]
No. 2 in C minor BWV 813 [15:42]
No. 3 in B minor BWV 814 [16:37]
No. 4 in E-flat major BWV 815 [13:49]
No. 5 in G major BWV 816 [19:43]
No. 6 in E major BWV 817 [16:42]
Overture in the French style (Partita) BWV 831 [25;46]
Vladimir Feltsman (piano)
rec. 7 & 8 December 2005, Fisher Performing Arts Center, Bard College, New York; 14 February 2002, the Bolshoi Hall of Moscow Conservatory (overture). DDD
NIMBUS ALLIANCE NI 6314 [62:07 + 62:15]

These are studio recordings from 2002 and 2005; I do not know why their release has been so long delayed but they form a very welcome addition to Vladimir Feltsman’s survey of Bach’s keyboard works for Nimbus and fully live up to the technical and artistic standards of previous releases.

The French Suites are middle period works, written at Cöthen between 1722 and 1725. As such, they are contemporaneous with, and Germanic cousins to, Rameau’s second book of “Pièces de clavecin” and “Nouvelles Suites de Pièces de Clavecin”, their Frenchness being reflected in a simpler, more linear and refined style than the English Suites or the Partitas and the fact that many of the individual movements take their names from French dance. They are also more Gallic in that they are not in general so strictly contrapuntal, but a movement such as the Gigue closing No. 5, with its strong contrapuntal forward momentum and Germanic intellectual rigour, is clearly a long way from the folksy, melodious charm of Rameau’s idiom.

Feltsman seems entirely at home with this music, as he does in virtually every composer he has recorded for Nimbus; he has a protean adaptability to perform Schubert, Chopin, Rachmaninov and, as per here, Bach, with equal facility and success. As usual, he provides his own erudite and persuasive commentary in the liner-notes, justifying his decision to draw on both published versions of the manuscript scores and exercising his judgement in applying a level of ornamentation which seems consistent with standard Baroque practice, occasionally extemporising ad libitum.

The appended French Overture is a more elaborately ornamented work than the Suites and Feltsman plays it in very grand style, as befits its lofty, complex character.

The French Suites are not perhaps amongst many listeners’ favourite Bach compositions, being rather more conservative and restrained than his other keyboard works but there is still much here to delight and I cannot imagine anyone who wants them played on a modern piano being disappointed by Feltsman’s artistry.
Ralph Moore
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