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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Partita No. 1 in B flat major, BWV 825 [19:50]
Partita No. 2 in C minor, BWV 826 [21:03]
Partita No. 6 in E minor, BWV 830 [31:31]
Partita No. 3 in A minor, BWV 827 [20:04]
Partita No. 4 in D major, BWV 828 [34:05]
Partita No. 5 in G major, BWV 829 [23:18]
Trevor Pinnock (harpsichord)
rec. 1998/99, Karlshöhe, Ludwigsburg. HÄNSSLER CLASSIC HC19053 [72:24 + 77:27]
This is a re-release of a recording that was Vol. 115 of Hänssler Classic’s vast Edition Bachakademie from 2003. Hänssler Classic seems to be re-releasing a number of these ex-box set titles and the hard-copy CDs are appearing without booklet notes, which might prove a bit of a disappointment. Download purchase indicates ‘booklet available’ so I assume they think this will be the primary avenue for sales. It hasn’t been reviewed before on MWI but has been favourably mentioned as a reference, for instance in a review of Scott Ross playing the Partitas on the Warner Elatus label (review).
Whatever the production values in terms of the published discs this is a very good recording indeed. The harpsichord sound has a pleasant buzz to its tone, and there is just enough deep resonance to go along with the brightness of the treble to make for an agreeable balance. This is also helped by a nicely resonant acoustic, the instrument sitting in its space just far enough from the listener for realistic perspective to go along with the detail in the sound. Contrast with the lute stop in, for instance, the Menuet of BWV 825 will make you sit up and pay extra attention, as if that were needed as there is so much excellent music making going on you can be on the edge of your seat the whole time if you are really concentrating.
Trevor Pinnock made a fine recording of the Partitas for the Archiv label in the 1980s, but this more recent recording is a significant improvement both in terms of the recorded sound, which is rather distant and vague on the Archiv recording, and with regard to musical involvement, which is up several notches in the Hänssler recording. Pinnock’s playing is always good, but he seems at the top of his game here. Trills and ornaments are relaxed and even, and his legato touch is second to none. The dance movements are groovy without being rushed or over-heated. Everything has an effortless quality without being superficial. You get full value for money with repeats being observed and varied upon both in ornamentation and registration, and if it wasn’t for the lack of a booklet this release would get an unreserved recommendation and probably be right at the top of the heap.
Competition is of course fierce in this repertoire, though I’m not going to make any comparisons with piano versions. Huguette Dreyfus on the Heritage label (review) is a contender, though I find Pinnock more musically flexible and interesting and with better sound quality. Masaaki Suzuki on the BIS label (review) is good if you want more relaxed tempi and a bit more air between yourself and the instrument. Suzuki is less ‘Bach-like’ than Pinnock to my ears; still idiomatic and stylish, but somehow a bit removed and enigmatic. Scott Ross must also not be forgotten (review). Formerly on Erato and now available through Warner Elatus, his recordings are always special, and pitted against Pinnock in the Partitas I would be hard pushed to pick an absolute favourite. The refinement and poetry Ross generates in dance movements such as the Allemande of BWV 829 tips the balance in his favour for me, but this is all very marginal and I could live happily with either set.
So, to sum up, this is still a top-notch recording and performance on harpsichord of Bach’s Six Partitas, but will you still want to order the CDs knowing you’ll only get a flimsy track listing and a few recording details? Call me old-fashioned, but there’s a sort of pride of ownership with CDs that makes me feel I want to know I have the full package rather than a box-set knockoff that presumably had its own booklet notes on original release, so why not include those now?