BACH: English Suite No. 3 in G Minor; English Suite No. 1 in A Major; English Suite No. 5 in E Minor – Piotr Anderszewski, p. – Warner Classics

BACH: English Suite No. 3 in G Minor, BWV 808; English Suite No. 1 in A Major, BWV 806; English Suite No. 5 in E Minor, BWV 810 – Piotr Anderszewski, piano – Warner Classics 0825646219391, 66:45 (11/11/14) ****:

Not so long ago, in 2002, Hungarian-Polish pianist Piotr Anderszewski (b. 1969) received the Gilmore Artist Award for his outstanding and diverse musicianship. The mature Anderszewski (March-June 2014) turns to the c. 1715 Weimar suites composed by Bach as studies in harmony and contrapuntal invention.  Elegance and fluent articulation mark every measure of these three suites, played with dedication and scholarly acumen that never ceases to render Bach exhilarating even in the midst of his “pedagogy.” Anderszewski has made a particular study of the Italianate G Minor Suite, insofar as his options on repeats involving Courante I and II and their corresponding Doubles.  The vivacity of the performance owes much to understanding this music as an extension of the Vivaldi ethos, whose own 3/8 allegros and ritornellos carry a virile brio of their own. Bach invokes the term Musette this once only, here as movement seven of this agreeable set of dances. Anyone wishing to offer a movement for a “teaser” of this disc might present Anderszewski’s reading of the final Gigue in 12/8 as a demonstration of his stylistic prowess. Anderszewski’s piquant attacks in the Courante are a lesson of their own.

The predominantly French conception of the A Major Suite No. 1 converts its Prelude into an effective three-part invention in a restrained mood. Its most expansive movement, the Sarabande, exploits a lyrical ethos in brief runs and turns, its high tessitura a majestic plaint that might pay homage to the French clavecinistes.  Anderszewski executes the pair of Bourrees with springy charm, especially as they shade each other in delicate syncopation. Bach knew the work of Charles Dieupart, whose 1701 Suites de Clavecin Bach had copied out himself.  The final Gigue in this A Major Suite seems to derive from Dieupart, but Bach invests the syncopes with infectious energy and a sense of playful rivalry in the hands.

Anderszewski notes Bach’s progressive tendency in counterpoint as the series of English Suites expands. The quirky Prelude of the Fifth Suite in E Minor proffers an intricate fugue, in 6/8, with accents on the second and fourth beats.  The textures become quite indicative of organ sonority in their stretti, which simultaneously demand a a toccata’s sense of bravura. Anderszewski can project a hard patina when he so desires, but does not attempt to reclaim a sound we might associate with the late Glenn Gould. The Allemande, set in thematic inversion at the outset, maintains a contemplative affect.  Much of the remaining movements invoke a galant style in the French (pointillist) taste, including two passepieds in 3/8. The “harpsichord” approximation from Anderszewski’s Steinway D occurs in the Courante, where we can feel the “shadow” of a two manual keyboard in Anderszewski’s application of weight to the hands.  The exquisite Sarabande conveys an Iberian dignity of its own, intimate and resigned.  The G Major passepied plays as a chiseled musette in glowing colors. Finally, the intricate Gigue, a slashing figure that moves in often dark chromatics, aggressive and forward-looking in every respect.

A small caveat: many of the timings by Warner for individual tracks are incorrect, often running longer than indicated in the liner notes.

—Gary Lemco

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