Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Partita No.6 in E minor, BWV 830 [34:20]
Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue, BWV 903 [12:11]
Italian Concerto in F major BWV971 (1735) [12:50]
Jean-Léon Cohen (piano)
rec. February-March 2016, Forgotten Records Studios, Rennes, France

This is the second volume of Bach keyboard works I have reviewed featuring the French pianist Jean-Léon Cohen (review). Born 1934, he studied with Vlado Perlemuter at the Paris Conservatoire. His career has centred around Rennes, where he has been a professor at the Conservatoire from 1959 to 1998. He has been a lifelong and enthusiastic advocate of the music of Henri Dutilleux, Olivier Messiaen and Frank Martin. This recording has added poignancy in that it has been released in memory of the pianist Pierre Froment (1937-2016), who died earlier this year. Shortly before his death I reviewed a CD of his Brahms recordings (review) .

Having already recorded the Second Partita, the pianist now turns his attention to the Sixth in E minor. This one is the grandest in scale of the set, and to me has greater profundity, demanding more depth of expression. Cohen’s opening Toccata is dramatic and has a real improvisatory feel. I love the sprung rhythmic syncopations of the Corrente — they just carry you along. The yearning character of the Sarabande is compelling, with the pianist probing to the very heart of the music. The final Gigue ends the work in grand style.

The dazzling flourishes of the Chromatic Fantasia are imaginative and free-flowing with a sense of occasion, whilst in the Fugue the polyphonic lines are expertly teased out. It’s a reading of muscularity and excitement. In the ever-popular Italian Concerto, the outer movements are spirited and exude confidence. The central Andante, in Cohen’s hands, is ruminative and eloquent, and he appears to be fully inside the music.

I don’t know whether the Steinway used in this recording is the same as that in the first volume, but the voicing is a tad over-bright. That said, Forgotten Studios offer a warm and intimate setting. Booklet notes are provided in French.

Stephen Greenbank