Notes and Editorial Reviews
Richard Egarr (hpd)
HARMONIA MUNDI 907591.92 (2 CDs: 181:23)
In about 1725 Johann Sebastian Bach put together these six suites that his biographer Johann Nikolas Forkel alleged were “composed for an English nobleman.” Of course, there is no substantiation whatsoever for this assertion, and the title seems to have found all sorts of other explanations, none of which apparently come from Bach himself. In any case, there is nothing intrinsically
“English” about them; rather, they form a nice cycle of keyboard suites in the ordinary French style of the period. They are at once genteel and complex works, with all of the intricacy that one might expect from Bach, but whether they were written as pedagogical works or as part of a sequence meant for entertainment in the home is not immediately apparent.
These works have been often recorded as they are firmly implanted in the keyboard repertoire. Christopher Brodersen noted a fine performance on Caro Mitis by Olga Martynova (
34:5) which I purchased on his recommendation due to the nicely resonant sound of the playing. I am pleased to note that this recording by Richard Egarr, using a Ruckers copy at A=409Hz and with his own temperament, is every bit its equal in performance, though I find the sound considerably more transparent. The instrument is resonant where needed, but the lightness of texture often allows Bach’s inner parts to emerge from beneath the nicely phrased melodic lines. Egarr does a wonderful job at letting the music evolve, rather than playing entirely in a mechanical fashion. This is the way Bach should be done, with subtle nuances emerging from the texture in the slower dances, and, as in the Bourée of the Suite in A Major, the perpetual motion of the lines given a nice energy when phrased this way. This marks this set as particularly fine. If you haven’t yet purchased your recording of the
, this is one that I believe will set a standard of excellence. For me, it has already replaced the Martynova as my favorite.
FANFARE: Bertil van Boer
The English Suites constitute Richard Egarr’s most artistically satisfying solo Bach release to date. As always, his playing abounds with rhythmic liberties and agogic phrasings, yet they rarely pull focus from the music’s dance origins.
The Fourth suite’s Courante, for example, has a swinging resilience not always evident in other period performances. Egarr also lays into the big chords of the Third suite Prelude in a manner that projects both the movement’s gravitas and churning intensity. A similar observation applies to the Sixth suite’s first Gavotte, which is followed by a second one whose higher octave registration manages not to sound the least bit cloying. Egarr’s beautifully contoured dialoguing between the hands in the Fifth suite’s Allemande justifies a tempo that might appear marginally too slow on first hearing. Conversely, I applaud Egarr’s refusal to rush the Gigues, where his centered basic pulse and eloquent melodic articulation allow these movements to both sing and dance.
The gentle colors characterizing the Katzman harpsichord’s quill plectra register beautifully via Harmonia Mundi’s engineering and are entirely appropriate to Egarr’s interpretations, which convincingly complement Christophe Rousset’s more extroverted and imposingly resonant traversals. Recommended.
-- Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com
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