BACH: Partita No. 4 in D Major, BWV 828; French Suite No. 1 in D Minor, BWV 812; BOULEZ: 12 Notations for Piano; Incises – David Fray, piano – Virgin Classics

by | Jul 6, 2007 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

BACH: Partita No. 4 in D Major, BWV 828; French Suite No. 1 in D Minor, BWV 812; BOULEZ: 12 Notations for Piano; Incises – David Fray, piano – Virgin Classics 00946 385787 2, 67:54 (Distrib. EMI) ****:

Pianist David Fray now has the distinction of having performed the longest D Major Partita on record that I know, offering up an Allemande of the better part of 12 minutes, a point annotator Andre Tabeuf seizes upon several times. Does Fray deliberately seek the mantle of eccentricity, a la Glenn Gould? What Fray brings to the keyboard are lightning-quick shifts in touch and dynamics, along with the ability to sustain his musical vistas in the manner of a Bruckner symphony. The intimacy of the Allemande, whatever distortions of tempo it endures, more than suggests an exalted communication on the clavichord of old. Recorded at the Paris Conservatory, 2005, the piano sound provides the sharp, probing glitter of youthful enthusiasm. The speedier Courante comes as out of the sacred sepulcher of the Allemande, idiosyncratically cantering forward. A dainty, dancing Aria in etched, punctuated rhythm, and then another extended melisma into outer space, the Sarabande in Fray’s beguiling concept. A Menuet in olden style – a musette, really, deftly ornamental. The Gigue comes across as an invention or toccata of quicksilver and gossamer texture.

The 1945 set of Notations by Pierre Boulez provide a stark contrast to Bach’s effusions, since the Boulez pieces are Webern disciples, pulverized miniatures in sound complexes. The most extended piece, Lointain–Calme, points at emotional distances. The Tres Vif Notation compresses Bartok into 19 seconds. Assez lent is the Boulez version of a Chopin prelude. Hard-edged counterpoint in Rythmique; pearly arpeggios and staccati in Doux et improvise. Hieratique and Mecanique et tres sec prove typical of this aesthetic, music as “discreet units in time.” Punishing chords and discords end this group, the piece marked Lent–Puissant et apre, whose main gesture is the fermata that drifts into infinity, a hundred years of solitude. 

Fray’s D Minor French Suite appears quite sober, almost conventional after his Partita, at least until the Gigue. The Allemande waxes wistful and polished. The Courante, effete yet angularly muscular, moves easily through its many grace notes. The Sarabande luxuriates in broad melismas, the aggregate of slow movements having become an instrumental Stabat Mater. Pearly Menuets move plaintively, welcome relief from the lachrymose affect that dominates this interpretation. The real surprise is the Gigue, whose slow tempo approximates that of a French overture. Fray concludes with the Boulez Incises, a kind of etude after Ravel – Scarbo’s personal hallucination. Three and one-half minutes in length, it keep Fray’s fingers active and energies focused. As a foil to Bach, it has given us something–and someone–to think about.

 — Gary Lemco

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