This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.
Notes and Editorial Reviews
These are relaxed, articulate, often poetic performances that allow the music to speak on its own visionary terms.
Bach began compiling his so-called French Suites—he himself did not term them such— towards the end of his period of office at Cöthen. He probably completed the set, by adding a sixth suite, during the early Leipzig years. Five of the suites, only, are in Bach's own hand. A great many sources for the French Suites are known to us and, as Davitt Moroney points out in a characteristically lucid essay accompanying this release, there is considerable divergence between them. Moroney, in fact, gives us not merely the customary and familiar six suites but also two further suites prepared by a Bach pupil,
Heinrich Nikolaus Gerber, in 1725. Thereafter, these additional suites frequently appear in manuscripts containing the remaining six. Furthermore, Moroney includes extra movements, all of them little galanteries, within the body of the well-known six suites, and these will certainly be less familiar to most listeners. Likewise, much of Moroney's ornamentation, arrived at through an assimilation of some at least of the extant sources, will strike an unfamiliar note. Moroney, aptly on the whole, likens his exploration of these sources to a lesson with Bach himself, but since the master cannot testify to the aptitude of his pupil it is the listener who must deem him worthy or otherwise of approbation.
Each of the six traditionally assembled suites begins with an allemande followed by courante and sarabande, and each concludes with a gigue; between sarabande and gigue occur varying groups of simpler, shorter dances. In the two less frequently heard suites the pattern is slightly different: BWV8I8a begins with a florid piece dominated by recurring upward-moving scale passages and an improvisatory freedom; it is the closest Bach comes to a prelude in the French Suites. The remaining movements follow a conventional sequence. BWV819a, on the other hand, lacks a concluding gigue; in this work, however, Moroney plays not one but two allemandes, the first of them from an earlier version of the Suite (BWV 819).
These are relaxed, articulate, often poetic performances which have impressed me more than any previous commercially recorded set on the harpischord. The music is more simply constructed than the English Suites, for example, and is consequently easier to play; but this has sometimes led performers to seek out complexities which are not really there and to indulge in vacuous rhetoric and pointless virtuosity. Not so here, for Moroney adopts modest and communicative tempos, punctuated with a conversational clarity which gives significance to every phrase. Among the many instances where Moroney parts company with his competitors and, indeed with Bach interpreters in general nowadays, is in his moderate and to my ears civilized approach to menuets. Allemandes are treated seriously, often with pensive inflexions and with a rhythmic elasticity which heightens the music's poetry. Sometimes I found sarabandes a little too weighty—that of the opening Suite in D minor is a case in point where Moroney emphasizes grandeur rather than gentler aspects of the piece. But the grandeur is nevertheless implied in Bach's writing and the extent to which a performer chooses to highlight it is a matter of personal taste.
Sometimes more than Kenneth Gilbert (Harmonia Mundi) or Christopher Hogwood (L'Oiseau-Lyre), the latter of whom, like Moroney, includes the two extra Suites, and much more than Gustav Leonhardt (Deutsche Harmonia Mundi/ BMG), Moroney underlines the conventions of the French harpsichord school in his playing with frequent inégales in running figures, for example; yet he never confines the music to a stylistic straitjacket, rather allowing it to speak on its own visionary terms. I have listened to these various versions of the French Suites several times over and find this new one unequivocably the finest of them. All repeats are observed and the instrument itself, a Ruckers (1646)/Taskin (1780) copy, is beautifully recorded. As I have said, the set is further enhanced by the presence of the two additional Suites and who among us would readily do without the Allemande from BWV819a—earlier, it may be than the others but it is in no sense a lesser piece from an expressive standpoint. A fine issue.
-- Gramophone [4/1991]
Works on This Recording
Suite in A minor, BWV 818 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Davitt Moroney (Harpsichord)
Written: circa 1722; Cöthen, Germany
Be the first to review this title