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CD Review

Johann Sebastian Bach


  • Partita in B Flat Major, BWV 825
  • Partita in C minor, BWV 826
  • Partita in A minor, BWV 827
  • Partita in D Major, BWV 828
  • Partita in G Major, BWV 829
  • Partita in E minor, BWV 830
Igor Levit, Piano
Notes by Martin Geck
Sony 8884307630 2CDs
Find it at AmazonFind it at Amazon UKFind it at Amazon GermanyFind it at Amazon CanadaFind it at Amazon FranceFind it at Amazon JapanOrder Now from Find it at JPC
Also available as an import: Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan

Many critics, musicologists and music lovers believe Glenn Gould is the supreme interpreter of the Partitas, Goldberg Variations, and other keyboard works of J.S. Bach. Gould was certainly a giant in this repertory, despite what was arguably a somewhat lopsided take on the music: Gould was intellectually brilliant in his approach alright but emotionally cool, maybe even icy. Well, to those who believe Gould was not quite the last word on Bach, this new recording by the brilliant young Igor Levit may be the perfect antidote. Gould generally employed brisk tempos and relatively little legato phrasing. Levit doesn't exactly pour on the legato, but he does give the music a more flowing manner, much like you would hear in a traditional performance of a Beethoven sonata. With a few exceptions his tempos are generally not very fast, yet he never plods or bogs down either. He is a centrist, damning as that description might sound to some. But he is an intelligent, sensitive centrist who delivers this music with consistent feeling and good taste.

Levit can plumb the depths of Bach's psyche for its rich profundities: try the Allemande from Partita #4 or the Sarabande in #1. In both these pieces tempos are expansive, but Levit's sensitive phrasing finds a bountiful intellectual and emotional yield. Although he is often moderate or even slow in his tempo choices, Levit can scurry or turn red-hot when called for: try either of the Gigues from #1 or #4 or the Scherzo from #3, the latter two being utterly breathless and breathtaking accounts where none of Bach's intricate writing is smudged or slighted. Neither does Levit make the music sound stiff or overly dignified: try the Fantasia from #3 or the Allemande from #5. In these pieces he plays with ease and flexibility as main lines and inner voices appear alternately with a natural sense of flow. Some pianists who play Bach often miss or shortchange the playful character in the music. Levit rarely overlooks that quality: try the Tempo di Menuetto and Passepied from #5 to hear truly spirited, deftly nuanced accounts of these charming pieces. There are numerous other splendid performances throughout these sets, including both the Toccata and Gigue from #6.

I could go on citing other examples too, but suffice it to say that Levit, whose first recording for Sony was a spectacular 2-disc set of the last five Beethoven piano sonatas (Sony Classical 8883-70387-2), now establishes himself as a major interpreter of the keyboard works of J.S. Bach. Sony's sound reproduction is vivid and powerful. Highly recommended.

Copyright © 2014, Robert Cummings