Pianist, Vladimir Feltsman www.feltsman.com has added to his already impressive catalogue of recordings for Nimbus www.wyastone.co.uk/all-labels/nimbus/nimbus-alliance.html with a new release of Bach’s French Suites.
Some of Johann Sebastian Bach’s (1685-1750) French Suites probably date from his time as Kapellmeister to Prince Leopold at Cöthen where he also wrote such masterworks as the Brandenburg Concertos, The Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1, the Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin and the Suites for solo cello (though some may have been written earlier). Not long after his marriage to his second wife, Anna Magdalena, certainly sometime in 1722, Bach wrote five short harpsichord suites, first versions of what would later become his six French Suites.
The title was not Bach’s own but later adopted to differentiate them from the English Suites and Partitas. There is nothing particularly French about the suites. Each follow the German style of layout and do not even have the Prelude usual in the suites of other French composers of the period.
The Allemande of the French Suite No. 1 in D Minor, BWV 812 has some fine limpid lines, thoughtful phrasing and tempo with a fine forward flow that seems just right. There is a lovely rhythmic pointing to the Courante with a fine fluency and great clarity that is really very fine. The Sarabande brings some exquisite moments as it slowly and beautifully unfolds before the Menuet I and Menuet II where Feltsman really allows the music to push forward, with a fast flow and terrific agility. The concluding Gigue receives some crisp, articulate playing before expanding beautifully.
The French Suite No. 2 in C Minor, BWV 813 opens with an Allemande that flows ahead beautifully and gently, revealing Bach’s lovely musical lines. Feltsman’s touch and phrasing is wonderful. He really brings the Courante alive with a tremendously clear, accurate, beautifully overlaid line. In the Sarabande he brings a real sense of discovery and spontaneity before an Air that receives a joyous rhythmic touch and detailed intricacy. Menuet I - Menuet II are finely paced, nicely sprung with a lovely inevitable flow before Feltsman really lifts the Gigue bringing some fine crisp tone from his instrument and a wonderful weaving of lines.
Feltsman again finds just the right tempo and flow for the Allemande of the French Suite No. 3 in B Minor, BWV 814 bringing some subtle fluctuations of tempi before a Courante that positively glows in this pianist’s with some quite wonderful sounds, a lovely brilliance and detail. There is a gentle thoughtful Sarabande with a rather melancholy air and some lovely flowing left hand lines followed by the lovely little twists and turns of the Menuet, superbly done. The Gavotte has a fine, subtle ebb and flow as the music moves ahead, really quite lovely. In the concluding Gigue all Bach’s rhythmic variations are wonderfully handled with a terrific flow and agility.
There is a seriousness to the flowing Allemande of the French Suite No. 4 in E-Flat Major, BWV 815, with this fine pianist revealing so much of Bach’s glorious invention. The Courante really bounds ahead with a terrific rhythm, full of life and joy and with some terrific dexterity. There is a lovely feeling of exploration to the Sarabande with a gentle flowing, spontaneous development. Feltsman brings more fine crispness and a lively rhythmic bounce to the Gavotte before a lovely little Menuet that has a gentle forward pulse. He produces a torrent of forward propulsion in the Air with a terrific weaving of lines before the Gigue that brings a lovely rocking motion, quite intoxicating with this pianist’s terrific touch, finding so many little details. Wonderful playing.
The second CD brings the French Suite No. 5 in G Major, BWV 816 with an Allemande that reveals itself gently with many subtle little details beautifully revealed. The Courante is really fine, moving ahead at a pace with some very fine crisp articulation and wonderfully woven lines. After a leisurely Sarabande where Feltsman allows the music to unfold naturally there is a lovely Gavotte so lightly sprung with a lovely left hand line woven through and a lively Bourée full of fine moments. In the Loure Feltsman creates some lovely phrases as this piece finds its way forward before a terrific, bounding, rhythmic Gigue where this pianist brings some absolutely wonderful playing, crisp, accurate, articulate and lovely musical lines.
The Allemande of the French Suite No. 6 in E Major, BWV 817 moves at a moderately fast pace, Feltsman revealing some lovely little tempi fluctuations before a terrific fast flowing Courante where he brings some very fine articulation. The Sarabande is beautifully laid out; again sounding like a voyage of discovery as Feltsman slowly allows it to unfold. After the crisp, nicely sprung Gavotte He finds a lovely left hand flow through the Polonaise before moving into a lively, fast moving Bourrée with more terrific clarity of line from Feltsman’s fine touch. There is a lovely little Menuet so finely phrased before the final Gigue that really rattles ahead, full of energy with some really wonderful fast, beautifully articulated passages.
Overture in French style, BWV 831 is one of two works that comprise Part II of the Clavier-Übung of 1735, the other being the Italian Concerto. The work opens with fine expansive French Ouverture beautifully shaped before bringing some fine buoyant fast flowing passages, full of forward drive and finely controlled dynamics, brilliantly played with an unstoppable quality. The Courante has a glorious breadth and flow before the restrained delicacy of Gavotte I & II that is most appealing. Passpied I & II receive a fine rhythmic lift with passages of wonderfully delicate, controlled flow. There is the feel of spontaneous improvisation in the beautifully leisurely Sarabande before the buoyant, joyous Bourrée I & II Feltsman finding his way around all the little twists and turns wonderfully. After the crisp, rhythmic Gigue, there is a wonderfully shaped Echo with finely controlled dynamics bringing a terrific conclusion.
This is captivating Bach. Perhaps Feltsman is a little idiosyncratic at times but he is terrific nevertheless. He is well recorded and provides his own informative booklet notes.