Partita for Glenn Gould

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Young music-lovers today may find it difficult to believe that, 50 years ago, major works by Bach were considered to be of such specialized appeal that recordings could be obtained only in a limited ''Society'' edition. The cello suites had never been recorded until Fred Gaisberg, after protracted efforts, finally persuaded Casals to play them for HMV: Nos 2 and 3 in London in November , the rest in Paris in July and July Casals had hesitated for 35 years before committing to disc these works — long regarded as unplayable, and never performed in their entirety — which he had discovered at the age of 13 and worked on for 12 years before playing them to an astonished public.

To do so he had had to evolve new techniques and, intellectually, to delve deeply into the character and inner structure of the music. He stressed the dance basis of the movements; and his vitality, rhythmic flexibility to clarify the shape of phrases and tonal nuance, and the vigour and variety of his bowing, still leap from the discs to impress the listener. From the profound contemplative quality of the G major Sarabande or the C minor Allemande to the zest of the C major Bourree, the breadth and grandeur of the D minor Suite's Prelude and the gravity of its Sarabande, the lightness of the E flat Allemande and Bourrees or the C minor Gavotte, the raptness of the C minor Sarabande, and the lucidity of thought behind the elaborate D major Allemande, these performances remain the classic yardstick by which all later ones must be judged.

The digitally remastered transfers from the original 78s, yielding an astonishingly clean ambience to the cello, represent another technical triumph for Keith Hardwick; but listeners with acute ears will notice that the Courante of the E flat Suite and the Gavotte of the C minor were recorded at a slightly sharper pitch than the movements preceding them.

Of all the great cellists I have heard playing Bach's six Cello Suites, BWV, either in the concert hall or in recordings of various kinds, Pierre Fournier came closer to the heart of the music, as I understand it, than almost any other. He made these recordings for Archiv between and since when they have seldom been out of the catalogue. Readers who prefer the charisma and extrovert flourishes of Tortelier EMI , the penetrating though sometimes unstylish gestures of Casals EMI References , or the brilliant but too often superficial readings of Schiff EMI and Maisky DG may be hard to win over to these concentrated, personally unassuming interpretations by Fournier.

Fournier seems to me to have possessed all the virtues of his fellow cellists without yielding to any of their self-indulgences; irrelevant personal idiosyncrasies are never allowed to intrude these finely sustained performances. He could be brilliant in execution — his technique was second to none, as he proves throughout this set — profound in utterance, aristocratic in poise and wonderfully coherent in his understanding of Bach's articulation and phrases.

We need look no further than the Prelude of the First Suite in G major to find the supreme artistry which characterizes each and every moment of these performances. To be sure, there are very occasionally notes which fail to reach their centre but they are few and far between and certainly Fournier's intonation compares favourably with that of some of his virtuoso companions. Fournier's rubato is held tightly in rein and when he does apply it it is in the interests of enlivening aspects of Bach's formal writing.

Thus it is in the Preludes, where the music requires rhythmic freedom if it is not to be relegated to the ranks of mere study material, that Fournier demonstrates his intuition and fine sense of style most forcefully; the Preludes to the First and Third Suites provide good examples. Fournier can sparkle too, as he does in many of the faster dance-orientated movements such as courantes, gavottes, bourrees and so on; in the sarabandes, on the other hand, he invariably strikes a note of grandeur coupled with a concentration amounting at times — as in the sarabandes of Suites Nos.

Above all, Fournier's Bach playing is crowned with an eloquence, a lyricism and a grasp both of the formal and stylistic content of the music which will not easily be matched. Bylsma's tempos tend to be faster than those of Fournier — that, after all has been a trend in baroque music over the past 20 years or so — but his conception of the music shares ground with that of Fournier. All things considered, it is hardly surprising that these readings seem as fresh and as valid today as they did 25 or more years ago.

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Glenn Gould - Concerts, Biography & News - BBC Music

Out and out purists, poor devils, may not be able to adjust to modern pitch, modern instrument and, in the case of Suites Nos 5 and 6, the wrong instrument, but if that is so they are deserving more of compassion than censure. Fine recorded sound and strongly commended on virtually all counts. But then, this is also the most wonderful cello-playing, surely among the most consistently beautiful to have been heard in this demanding music, as well as the most musically alert and vivid. As with so much mainstream repertoire, the catalogue is so full of recordings — good and bad — that there often has to be some form of abstract justification to qualify any further additions.

But the extraordinarily resonant sound he makes is probably less to do with the instruments than with the playing itself, which is warm, expansive, generous and friendly. That is not to say that this performance is not of the highest level intellectually and technically: it is, and largely because of its appreciation of these suites as not just dances but discourses almost verbal in their directness.


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It is as if all the work that Watkin has ever done on these pieces has been absorbed absolutely and then reproduced in a performance that is able to be completely original in its voice at the same time as never producing a phrase that jars in its unsubtlety, or presents an ego that overarches the music. That generosity of artistry directly results in some movements that are not only opened up to the listener as the masterworks they are but as paeans of heart-cracking joy. If you only buy this disc for the Prelude of the C major Suite, for exactly that reason, it will be money well spent.

At once we can recognize Podger's splendid rhythmic and tonal vitality not merely Bach's marked terraced dynamics but pulsatingly alive gradations within phrases , her extremely subtle accentuations and harmonic awareness note her change of colour at the move from E to C sharp major in bar 33 , are all within total technical assurances.

In the sonatas she shows other sterling qualities. This disc is a natural for my Critic's Choice of the year. With these impressive performances on her beautiful-toned Amati of the Solo Sonatas and Partitas Monica Huggett sweeps other baroque interpretations off the board.

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That certainly does not imply any absence of virtuosity: there have been few recordings of these pillars of the repertoire so impeccable in intonation and so free from any tonal roughness. Her rhythmic flexibility very marked in the Chaconne may upset some traditionalists, but it gives her readings a thoughtfully spontaneous air, and is always applied to clarify the phrasing. She is adept at balancing the interplay of internal parts and at preserving continuity of line as in the D minor Sarabande and rhythmic flow despite the irruption of chords: only in places in the gigantic C major Fugue did I feel this under strain and at the start of the B minor Bourree lost.

This is a glorious disc. Simply glorious. This is particularly evident in faster movements such as the fierce and brilliant fugal Gigue that concludes the Third Suite, or, in the E minor Fifth Suite, the extended fugal Prelude and the outer sections of its Passepied I. Common to all is a sense of being fleet but never breathless, with time enough for textures to tell.

At every turn you get the sense of Bach flexing his compositional muscles in these early keyboard suites. And how Anderszewski can dance — at least at the keyboard — in a movement such as the Prelude of the Third Suite, urged into life through subtle dynamics, voicings, articulation and judicious ornamentation. A very different kind of dance reveals itself in the Gavotte II of the Third Suite, a musette in which he takes a more impish view than many, the sonorous drone effect contrasting delightfully with the tripping upper lines.

The way he has considered the touch and dynamic of every phrase means that these are readings that constantly impress with fresh details each time you hear them. In fact the effect here is truly meditative. Fittingly, there is a long silence before the limpid Gavotte. Are there any caveats? Some might find the basic pulse of the First and Fifth Sarabandes perhaps too slow. To me they work precisely because he teases so much out of each line. And at every turn, he harnesses the possibilities of the piano in the service of Bach; the result is a clear labour of love, and one in which he shines new light on old music to mesmerising effect, all of which is captured by a warmly sympathetic recording and an engaging booklet-note by Mark Audus.

That might account for Murray Perahia — 70 next April — calling time on Sony Classical after an apparently happy marriage of 43 years.


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In the booklet interview Perahia reveals that his first encounter with Bach in concert was as a teenager when he heard Pablo Casals conducting the St Matthew Passion at Carnegie Hall. Perahia and Casals, though temperamentally very different, have in common a sense of bringing across Bach the man rather than Bach the god.

Glenn Gould

As we expect from Perahia, everything sounds natural and inevitable. Or sample the Sarabande of the same suite, simultaneously intimate yet with true gravity. Take the gigues, for instance.


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  4. Preference will come down to personal taste. With some artists, you have a sense that their personality comes across most strongly in the main structural movements of the French Suites — the opening allemandes, pivotal sarabandes and closing gigues.

    Glenn Gould - Bach Partita No. 6 (1 Toccata)

    But one of the delights of this set is what Perahia does with the in-between movements. Or take the pair of Gavottes from the Fourth Suite, the first purposefully busy, the second a moto perpetuo of sinew and determination, but both having — that word again — a real sense of joy. Again, examples are manifold, but to take just one, try the Courante of the Sixth Suite, its streams of semiquavers and interplay between the hands a thing of delight. At the double bar, before the section repeat and before embarking on the second section, we get the slightest of hesitations, Perahia pausing just long enough to let the music breathe.

    All this would count for little were we not able to hear him in such beautifully immediate sound. Of all the current doyens of modern Bach performance, Masaaki Suzuki knows no limits to his explorations. The Pastorale, with its exquisite musette-like opening, whose subsequent C major movement trips along in a manner organists seem universally reluctant to pursue, is simply a pearl.

    The Fugue from the above-mentioned D minor is a case in point: the glistening parallel motion over the pedal at 3'20", often a bloated gesture, enticingly holds back to set up the rich-textured gravitas that follows.

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    Inexorable momentum here is born of fervent authority, a virtuosity of combined effects without gratuitous excess. Perhaps not surprisingly, Stravinsky was beguiled by the possibility of its intertwining lines in his inventive homage of , with its supra-polyphonic interpolations. Truly symphonic in grandeur, the work is harnessed impressively by this exceptionally experienced Bachian.

    Jonathan Freeman-Attwood October For the keyboard player, an engagement with Bach is a constant from childhood, and it becomes essential to daily life. For Beethoven, for Mozart in his maturity and for Chopin, it was the same. Yet no music is more demanding to realise in sound, nor quicker to reveal inadequacies of perception. Which brings me to Igor Levit — and not a moment too soon, you may think. He played those sonatas as though he had lived with late Beethoven a long time and had perceived and understood everything.

    His versions of the six Bach Partitas show a comparable address and maturity.

    Bach: Partita No. 3 in A minor; Partita No. 4 in D major; Toccata No. 7 in E minor

    Above all, they are fresh and joyous. How demanding they are. Complex music — but not complicated. Where other practitioners offer regular accents and a perhaps over-cautious traversal, tethered to the notes, Levit never fails to project a commanding overview — an aerial perspective, almost — in addition to the detail of phrasing and articulations and the nooks and crannies of melodic lines. Only the most gifted interpreters manage both. It energises his performances and makes them seem to inhabit a state of grace.

    And it contributes to our enjoyment in another way, drawing us on as we listen and keeping us curious as to what lies around the next corner.