I confess I am a Glenn Gould lover. Despite all his eccentricities, Gould's interpretation of Bach's keyboard music seemed unsurpassable. It was clear as ice, brilliant, intellectual. It was, for me, definitive Bach.
That was until I heard Martha Argerich's recording of these three separate and somewhat unassuming Bach pieces for keyboard. It took just a single listening, and a mental leap, but Gould was thrown off his pedestal.
Quite simply, this CD is wondrous stuff!
It has become one of my top three CDs (along with Maazel's Mahler fourth
and Alfred Brendel's Schubert Impromptus
). If I were to be stranded on a desert island, I would be a happy man if only I could bring along these recordings.
I am also a fan of the boxed set. I like to collect complete editions, entire sets. Isolated works seem lacking and lost somehow. Yet this, Argerich's only
Bach recording, is a simple recording of just three keyboard works. A Toccata
, a Partita
and an English Suite
. Far from his best-known. In fact, far from his best.
Yet the simple fact that they are played in isolation brings a focus of attention to them. And Martha Argerich's playing elevated them into the realm of magic.
The recital starts with the Toccata in C, BWV 911
, an early, largely ignored work of Bach. The structure is of fantasia-like improvisations and adagios alternating with complex contrapuntal fugues. The contrast in moods is dramatic, the taut fugal structure a sign of things to come with the older Bach.
In the 1720's, Bach wrote three sets of six suites for keyboard. They are now known as the English Suites
, the French Suites
and the Partitas
(sometimes called the German Suites
). All are abstractions of popular dance forms from previous centuries, including the Allemande
, the Gigue
, the Bouree
, the Courante
, the Sarabande
, the Rondeaux
and the Minuette
. The designations as French, English and German are rather arbitrary as most of the dance forms are French (the Sarabande
is Spanish, the Gigue
is English and the Minuette
Martha Argerich chooses just two, the second English Suite, BWV 807 and the second Partita, BWV 826. Again relatively unknown works of Bach, from which Argerich weaves magic.
Martha Argerich is best know for her virtuoso interpretations of Ravel (see our review of Ravel's Piano Concerto in G
), Prokofiev (our review of Argerich playing his Toccata
and Third Piano Concerto
), Chopin and other Romantic and Twentieth Century composers. Her hallmark is to play impossibly fast, and impossibly accurately, yet imbue the music with emotional intensity.
Bach by Argerich is a surprise. It is completely way off her usual repertoire, and this CD is her only Bach recording. Yet she plays it with an amazing combination of sensitivity, clarity and life. She brings out the surprising depth of feeling in this music, and most of all, its great joy. It is magnificently fun music. I am almost ashamed to admit that her playing makes Gould sound cold and isolated.
These are dances, if not of the feet, then certainly of the mind. And this is music for the soul, or what I like to call the quiet sanity of Bach.
I realise I sound effusive, and our rarely awarded 5 gramophone rating is not given lightly. But this is a remarkable recording of astounding musicality, the genius of Bach revealed by a master musician. Get it!
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Johann Sebastian Bach
- Toccata in c, BWV911
Partita No.2 in c, BWV826
English Suite No.2 in A, BWV807
- Bouree I/II