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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Italian Concerto in F major, BWV971 (1735) [11:45]
Partita No. 1 in B flat major, BWV825 (1726) [16:40]
Partita No. 5 in G major, BWV829 (1730) [20:07]
Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D minor, BWV903 (1721) [11:17]
Konstanze Eickhorst (piano)
rec. 2019, Sendes-Saal, Bremen, Germany
GENUIN GEN20682 [60:58]

The German pianist Konstanze Eickhorst feels she has a very personal relationship with Johann Sebastian Bach: ‘Bach is the alpha and omega of music, an intellectual and emotional challenge to both the player and the listener. Many paths lead to him and to a love of his music. More than any other composer, he can sustain the widest possible range of approaches to interpretation.’ Throughout her distinguished career spanning more than thirty years, she has given special attention to the keyboard music of Bach.

This recital, recorded in July 2019, sounds well and is notable for its clarity of phrasing and expression. Subtle adjustments of tempo and articulation help generate a special musical personality. The programme, carefully thought out, has two of the partitas at the centre, flanked by the ever-popular Italian Concerto and the masterly Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue. The latter is a veritable triumph of insightful virtuosity in the service of musical integrity.

In the partitas especially, Eickhorst joins a catalogue that features the world’s most distinguished interpreters of Bach’s keyboard music played on the modern piano, which in her case is a Steinway Model D. (Congratulations to Genuin for telling us.) Many fine players have recorded this repertoire with great success, Angela Hewitt and András Schiff, for example. While Eickhorst does not supplant their interpretations in her new recording, she is certainly an artist of similarly distinguished calibre.

As ever therefore, the collector who wants to avoid duplication will need to observe the programming on offer. Many recordings of the partitas collect the complete set of six, and for library purposes this is an eminently sensible approach. Both Hewitt (Hyperion) and Schiff (Decca) offer this option. With her more varied programme, Eickhorst brings more of the feel of a recital, a valid enough approach which will offer an hour of stimulating listening.

There is also the elephant in the room that always lurks behind any Bach performance on the piano: how appropriate it is to perform the music on an instrument the composer himself never encountered. Opinions vary, and some people are militantly in favour of the harpsichord. There are excellent performances by Ton Koopman (Challenge Classics) and Trevor Pinnock (Hänssler), for example. Yet in the best sense of the word, Bach is the most indestructible of composers. His music sounds wonderful, and is wonderful, on the modern piano, which is why the world’s great pianists insist on performing it so frequently.

Konstanze Eickhorst’s new recording therefore ranks highly among Bach performances. Her programme is imaginatively conceived, and while all the performances are distinguished, that of the Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue is worth the price of the disc on its own.

Terry Barfoot

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