BACH: The English Suites – Richard Egarr, harpsichord – Harmonia mundi HMU 907591.92 (2 CDs), 1:21:23 ***:
Though Richard Egarr claims that the earlier keyboard works of Bach, as the ones found here, ultimately give him more pleasure than the later more profound pieces—despite the fact that he certainly loves and respects them—his playing of these delightful suites strikes me as slightly contrived, and perhaps too over-cautious. His tempi fluctuates with a sort of faux-rubato, even from measure to measure, and most of all I miss a definitive and sturdy bass line. Granted, in some of these pieces, as Brahms likes to do, there is an almost intentional misinterpretation of the downbeat—Bach was not immune to tricks like this. But too often I was deceived not by intention but by misapplication of linear highlighting.
There are places, mainly in the last two suites, where Egarr’s natural affinity for the music really blossoms, as when we hear in several places Bach imitating Rameau. Egarr’s flashiness of approach here suits the music well, and this whole set is anything but a failure. But there are too many out there for this one to claim a top spot.
Harmonia mundi’s sound here is also somewhat recessed, though certainly very clear, and lacks the presence I have some to expect from them. Editor Sunier says that the CD-only track on the Caro Mitis with Olga Martynova has more life and sonic viability than this one, and the Caro Mitis has superb playing and great surround sound as well. I haven’t heard that one but I have little reason to doubt his conclusions.