JS Bach: French Suites

Murray Perahia

JS Bach: French Suites
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JS Bach: French Suites

Murray Perahia

Perahia has always felt a great affinity with the music of Bach, having played some of his pieces since childhood and been powerfully influenced by a performance he attended at the age of fifteen of the St Matthew Passion conducted by Pablo Casals. He also found solace in studying the composer on a daily basis during a period in which illness prevented him from playing.

He sees the French Suites as “Bach on the highest level”, adding, “I don’t think Bach wrote one note that didn’t have wider meanings and that wasn’t to be tackled with all one’s heart and soul.” His recording revels in the music’s diverse moods, from melancholy tenderness to out-and-out joy, and brings out every nuance of its elegant phrasing and expressive dance rhythms.

Review

Bach Piano music can be quite daunting for the uninitiated. The complex melodic ideas and constant rhythmic pulse typical of his style feels like it’s turning in on itself and it can be hard to follow both the melodic and harmonic progressions. Coming from the baroque era (1600–1750), these Six Suites are typical of solo instrumental works of the period, and were written at the culmination of the baroque, bringing together so many of Bach’s strong points. What I found instantly enjoyable about Murray Perahia’s interpretation was the lightness and deftness with which he approached these amazingly well-crafted French Suites.

Although wrongly called ‘French’ in style by Bach’s most famous biographer, Johann Nikolaus Forkel, in 1802, the name has stuck and they are one of Bach’s most enduring piano works. As there is no definitive score that survives, each recording can be quite different depending on which original manuscript the musician has worked from. What is consistent through them all though is their delightful dance feel and interesting harmonic progressions.In his interpretation Perahia has kept the ornamentation simple and elegant to suit this style. You can tell that he’s been studying Bach his whole life, and no matter if you’re a novice or an expert, this recording is a delight.


Kate Rockstrom is a friend of Readings.

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