Nelson Freire brings his own concept to Bach; his playing exhibits flair and intelligent bravura in all parts.

Nelson Freire in BACH =  Partita No. 4 in D Major, BWV 828; Toccata in c minor, BWV 911; English Suite No. 3 in g minor, BWV 808; Concerto in d minor after Marcello – Adagio; Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in d minor, BWV 903; Ich ruf zu dir, Jesu Christ, BWV 639; Komm, Gott Schoepfer, helliger Geist, BWV 667; Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BWV 659; Prelude in b minor, BWV 535 (arr. Siloti); Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring (arr. Hess) – Nelson Freire, piano – Decca 478 8449, 81:44 (3/4/16) [Distr. by Universal] ****: 

Recorded in Harburg 17-21 August 2015, this all-Bach recital from Brazilian virtuoso Nelson Freire (b. 1944) certainly presents him as a crystalline executant of the Bach style, often achieving superbly fluent motion in the individual movements of suites and the fugue from the BWV 903.   I can imagine that detractors will pounce upon Freire as too much a Romantic acolyte of the Bach his mentor Guiomar Novaes embodied. But for those who admire the innate grace and ennobled tone of Freire’s renditions, pieces like the Adagio after Benedetto Marcello will provide a musical staple.  No less redolent of schwung, the Courante from the g minor English Suite draws me back time and again to bask in Freire’s controlled intelligent bravura. The two Gavottes contain no less pearly wisdom.

It seems no coincidence that Freire has been awarded the Dinu Lipatti Medal, since his playing of the Busoni arrangement of Ich ruf zu dir corresponds in tone and shape to that Romanian master’s affecting realization.  Rapt exhilaration and resonant chordal progressions mark Freire’s Komm, Gott Schoepfer, helliger Geist, conceived as a sustained arch.  The tolling of bells, a trademark of Rachmaninov, informs Freire’s devotionally intimate Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, whose parlando passages sing with an equally poignant lyricism. Like Novaes, Freire shapes the musical line and adds subtle pedaled colors to the Siloti version of the Prelude in b minor, a piece that Emil Gilels also found consistently compelling.  The striking, bold assertion of the work in its middle section conveys a luster quite akin to organ sonority. With the Myra Hess arrangement of Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring Freire concludes in salon style a recital that begins with grand lines and extroverted gestures.

Perhaps less successful, the larger works grope a bit for musical continuity, although the Toccata in c minor does not lack for quick dexterity and dynamic gradations. The work seems to have taken its cue from Buxtehude, a combination of declamatory and improvisational episodes, with a fugue that tests the pianist’s capacity for textural clarity amidst the four competing lines. Agi Jambor had a particular penchant for this brilliant pastiche of a touch-piece.  Whenever Freire invokes his robust staccato, we are likely to invoke the musical memory of Glenn Gould, though Freire does not opt for quite so pointillistic a sonority. Freire rather cast my musical memory back to Jorg Demus, as in the D Major Partita, who first brought out the seamless cohesion of this expansive work. The Ouverture displays a deliciously singing line, a natural exuberance that provides an elegant juxtaposition against the succeeding Allemande. The Courante gallops in extroverted accents, a French dance with wit and a touch of impudence. The suave Aria segues to the Spanish Sarabande, a moment whose lyric motion shares much of Freire’s own temperament. Freire takes the Menuet alla musette, imbuing the work with a touch of Couperin. The Gigue proves ever-active in its distinct voices, a miniature powerhouse of dexterity and stamina which Freire delivers with facile aplomb.

Purists and pedants aside, Nelson Freire in his early seventies appears at the top of his music game, active, alert, and stylistically intuitive.

—Gary Lemco