BACH: The Six Partitas – David Korevaar, piano – MSR Classics MS 1461 (2 CDs), 153:53 [Distr. by Albany] ****:
Though the Six Partitas, published from 1726 to 1730 as Clavier-Übung I, were the first of his works to be published under his direction, they are among Bach’s last keyboard works even though he had a lot of life in him when he finished these. As a result they can be considered “middle period” Bach if such a thing exists, yet the consummate mastery evident in these pieces show how early the composer achieved mastery in any number of genres. They are quite free in structure even though some have named them the “German” suites—a complete misnomer if ever there was one—in order to separate them from the slightly earlier English and French Suites. Bach published them separately before forming them into a collection, with the First likely serving as a trial before undergoing the expense of the rest. Originally, as the key scheme sets forth clearly, there were to be seven suites instead of six, the ending key being F major, which some have supposed would have been the Italian Concerto before the nature of that work changed, though none of this can be proven at this point. All we know for sure is that, like so many other Bach works, these were intended as “practice” (!) pieces. Advanced practice, no doubt.
As monuments of the keyboard literature, these works suffer no dearth of recordings, from Gould to Perahia to Pinnock to Landowska, in all sorts of interpretative flavors. As far as I am concerned all you need to do in order to get a taste of David Korevaar’s performances is to read what I said about him when Book 1 of his Well-Tempered Clavier came out.
The artist himself says in the booklet notes to this release, “The understanding that the ‘authentic’ text of Bach’s publication is not a final version, but itself represents a kind of written snapshot upon which to base a performance, is central to my approach to this music…respect for the text means understanding the context in which it was written.” I can’t think of a better statement of true historical performance practice out there, one that lives and breathes the spirit of the music and not the academy.
Korevaar’s touch is quite elegant in all these suites, each individual line taking on a real personality of its own, and especially noteworthy is the delightful ringing piano tone he gets out of his Steinway D in the major-keyed Partitas, something many artists overlook in Bach, as if he is a tone-color automaton. Nothing could be further from the truth, and Korevaar senses this intuitively. MSR gives him excellent engineering as well, the piano tone warm and clear. You need Gould and Perahia, but I think we need to add Korevaar to the list as well. Warmly recommended!