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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Six Partitas for Keyboard BWV 825-30
Partita No. 1 in B Flat Major, BWV 825
Partita No. 2 in C minor, BWV 826
Partita No. 3 in A minor, BWV 827
Partita No. 4 in D Major, BWV 828
Partita No. 5 in G Major, BWV 829
Partita No. 6 in E Minor, BWV 830
Huguette Dreyfus (harpsichord)
rec. 1983, Aeolian Hall, Tokyo
HERITAGE RECORDS HTGCD292/3 [62:18 + 78:43]

Whilst I have been listening to these works performed on piano recently, it only takes a few bars of the opening Preludium of the B flat Major Partita for me to appreciate that these works sound much better when played on a harpsichord. The Six Partitas are part of Bach’s Clavier-Übung and were publish as single works, one per year from 1726 to 1731, when they were also published as a collection. Each of them is in fact a suite of six or seven short French-inspired dance movements, which David Korevaar has described as “Bach’s masterful summing up of the keyboard suite” (MS 1461).

When I lived in Liverpool I use to have a harpsichord-playing friend who introduced me to Huguette Dreyfus’s Bach Partitas on a Denon LP set (OX-7286-88). I remember greatly enjoying that box which now changes hands for around £70. Whilst I have never owned the set before, I did get to know the Partitas more thoroughly through the very fine recordings of the Partitas by Kenneth Gilbert (HM901144.45) and Trevor Pinnock (415 493-2). This present set brings back some good memories of the 1980s. The playing reflects a satisfying marriage of insight and character, with Dreyfus showing her complete understanding and mastery. It's a wonderful performance with well measured tempos throughout — exciting when the music calls for it, yet tender and thoughtful too. What we have here is no mere run-through but a true interpretation of this wonderful music. It stands up well against competing recordings and in some respects wins through against those more familiar and celebrated names. Dreyfus’s phrasing is well conceived and executed and deserves to be counted in the company of Gilbert and Pinnock. I particularly enjoyed her interpretation of the middle Partitas.

The recorded sound is good and clear but stylistically shows its age, with the harpsichord sounding a little dry at times. This is probably down to the way the instrument was originally miked rather than anything to do with the performance. More modern recording practices have developed the approach towards catching every nuance of the harpsichord. That's an aspect which is a little bit lacking here. The sound is wanting a little in the brightness we have come to appreciate from later recordings. That being said, the performance is admirable and the recording does not detract unduly. These are excellent interpretations — amongst the finest I have heard on any instrument.

Stuart Sillitoe



 



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