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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Partita No. 1 in B flat major, BWV 825 [25:56]
Partita No. 2 in C minor, BWV 826 [23:28]
Partita No. 3 in A minor, BWV 827 [23:15]
Partita No. 4 in D major, BWV 828 [33:44]
Partita No. 5 in G major, BWV 829 [21:27]
Partita No. 6 in E minor, BWV 830 [30:25]
Colin Tilney (harpsichord)
rec. 2019, Phillip T. Young Recital Hall, University of Victoria, BC, Canada
MUSIC & ARTS CD-1301 [3 CDs: 157:19]

The English harpsichordist, fortepianist and teacher Colin Tilney has featured prominently in the Music and Arts catalogue over the years. His sensitive and musically-informed playing has won him many devotees, including myself. Last year he took the six Partitas of Johann Sebastian Bach into the studios. I was greatly impressed with his recording for Hyperion of the two books of the composer’s Well Tempered Clavier, recorded back in the late 1980s, so I approached his latest efforts with a great sense of anticipation.

You may be wondering why this cycle fans out over three CDs. The answer is simple. Tilney’s tempi are broader than what you may be used to. Whilst the Gigues may not be the beneficiaries of this approach, lacking their youthful exuberance and sparkle, the slow movements e.g. the Sarabandes profit tremendously. The Corrente from the Partita No. 1 still retains an elegant spring in its step, and one is drawn along by the forward momentum of the final Capriccio of No. 2. The Sarabandes form the emotional core of each work, and each is eloquently contoured and rendered with warmth and compelling emotional insight. Where I would like a little extra pace is in the Praeludium of the Partita No. 1. Tilney’s hesitant step has the effect of impeding the flow of the music.

Tilney has opted for a Colin Booth harpsichord, constructed in 1984, after an instrument by Christian Zell, Hamburg 1728 (A-415 Hz). Booth is a harpsichord maker and performing musician who has made several fine recordings on his own label, Soundboard. This harpsichord is well suited to the music. It’s a bright-sounding instrument, with a radiant bloom and depth of tone, and perfectly spotlighted in the balance. Delineation of lines and ornamental detail is vividly captured. Tilney doesn’t fall into the trap of going overboard on registration changes, so that when they happen they have a striking effect. A good example is in the Air from the Partita No. 6., where its conversational quality is effected by the alternation of a plucked guitar sound with a bright, vibrant sonority.

At the age of 87, Tilney has lost none of his unique charisma. The Partitas are beautifully recorded, and the Phillip T. Young Recital Hall, where he’s made many of his Canadian recordings for the label, confers an attractive, intimate and warm ambience, ideal for this music. The 39 page booklet in English is worthy of special mention. Both fascinating and absorbing, Tilney’s own scholarly and erudite notes are an edifying accompaniment to this appealing release of profound and thoughtful musicianship.

Stephen Greenbank

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