Bach Complete English Suites

Perahia’s luminous Bach returns while Buchbinder live is on a roller-coaster

Author: 
Jed Distler
Bach The Complete English Suites, PerahiaBach The Complete English Suites, Perahia
Bach English Suites, BuchbinderBach English Suites, Buchbinder

BACH English Suites – Perahia

  • (6) English Suites
  • (6) English Suites, No. 3 in G minor, BWV808
  • (6) Partitas, No. 1 in B flat, BWV825, Gigue
  • Sonata for Piano No. 23, 'Appassionata'
  • Etudes symphoniques, 'Symphonic Studies'
  • (5) Études symphoniques

Murray Perahia’s English Suites (his first Bach recordings) originally appeared as full-price individual releases, beginning with Nos 1, 3 and 6 in 1997, followed by Nos 2, 4 and 5 in 1998. Now programmed in numerical order, the performances have more than worn well. No matter how full-bodied and luminous his sonority, Perahia is a line player first and foremost, achieving clear, colourfully diversified textures mainly through finger power and hand balance. When I reviewed Nos 2, 4 and 5 ten years ago, I noted Perahia’s telegraphing such textural shifts via slight ritards or little holdbacks at cadential points, but now I admit that I was nitpicking, rather than the pianist! Perahia’s Sarabandes are firmly etched and the Courantes propulsive. Ornaments are adventurous and he brings rhythmic drive to the quicker movements. The superb sound adds further value to an attractively priced reissue that collectors seeking the English Suites on the piano ought to seriously consider.

The G minor Suite that starts Rudolf Buchbinder’s 2004 Salzburg recital is a solid, intelligent reading that holds its own alongside more sharply profiled and individual accounts. His tempi take the music’s dance origins into account, helped by deft conversational interplay between both hands. Only the Gavotte seems unusually protracted, yet Buchbinder’s light touch and witty accentuation make the tempo work. The pianist characterises repeats by way of varied voicings and dynamic shadings, rather than ornaments.

In the Appassionata’s first movement, Buchbinder’s tendency to rush at the ends of certain measures proves more pronounced than in his Teldec studio recording, while the finale proves equally, sometimes dangerously impetuous in the heat of battle. Whereas the studio Andante con moto was brisk, terse and somewhat dry, Buchbinder’s broader, freer rethinking embraces the sustain pedal to a fault. He finds his centre in time for the concluding Schumann Symphonic Etudes, a joyful, unfettered rendition not without pianistic poise. On one hand we have Var 3’s marvellously calibrated and controlled canonic chordal writing, or Var 9’s limpid, sustained legato line. By contrast, Buchbinder launches into the Presto possibile like the proverbial bat out of hell, and doesn’t derail, following up with all five posthumous variations in a row. All of this is a warm-up to the encore: Bach’s B flat Partita Gigue, played to perfection.

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