Bach & Boulez

Intriguing programming brings some ravishing playing from the pianist

Author: 
Jed Distler

Bach & Boulez

  • (6) Partitas, No. 4 in D, BWV828
  • (12) Notations
  • (6) French Suites, No. 3 in B minor, BWV814
  • Incises
  • (6) Partitas, No. 2 in C minor, BWV826
  • (6) Partitas, No. 5 in G, BWV829
  • (6) Partitas, No. 6 in E minor, BWV830

The unselfregarding mastery and musical maturity David Fray brought to his Schubert and Liszt recital on ATMA manifest themselves on his Virgin Classics debut. Here he programmes intriguing and arguably incongruous juxtapositions of Bach and Boulez. Although Fray’s D major Partita and D minor French Suite may not boast the rhythmic verve and acute linear independence of András Schiff or Glenn Gould, Fray’s gorgeous tone and ravishingly shaded trills cast an intimate, poetic spell that’s hard to resist, especially within the French Suite’s more modest dimensions. His introspective, rather static slow movements convince less, but at least Fray’s 11-minute sprawl through the Partita’s Allemande avoids the total enervation of Cédric Tiberghien’s similarly timed version. Fray matches Pierre-Laurent Aimard for character and precision in Boulez’s Notations, yet goes his own way. For example, his faster tempo for No 4 creates a lighter, jazzier overall effect, while he casts No 10 in a less driven, militant light. The latter holds true comparing Fray’s Incises to the teenage Gianluca Cascioli’s premiere recording on DG.

The virtues and drawbacks of Brazilian harpsichordist Bruno Procopio’s debut disc encompassing Bach’s First, Third, and Fourth Partitas spill over into the follow-up volume with Nos 2, 5 and 6. At his best, Procopio displays an extrovert temperament and resilient sense of “swing” that taps into the music’s dance origins, specifically in the C minor’s Capriccio, the G major’s Gigue, the E minor’s Air and each partita’s Courante. Yet certain rhythmic distensions in the name of style seem just plain eccentric, such as the luftpauses in the G major Preambulum’s main theme and the angular, almost cubist rushing in the E minor Toccata’s opening section. Furthermore, Procopio stretches out each partita’s Sarabande to the point where the basic pulse hangs by a thread, and lays heavy-handedly into the C minor Allemande, leaving fluidity up to Pinnock, Kipnis and Woolley (the three harpichordists, not the law firm). The sonics capture Procopio’s harpsichord at such close range that you wonder who shoved your head into the belly of the instrument.

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