Thursday 7 July 2016

Infectious performances from Richard Egarr of Bach’s French Suites for Harmonia Mundi

Whether as Music Director of the Academy of Ancient Music, guest director with such other ensembles as Handel and Haydn Society and Tafelmusik or as a chamber or solo performer playing organ, harpsichord, fortepiano or modern piano, Richard Egarr’s repertoire ranges widely from Monteverdi to Mendelssohn.

Richard Egarr trained as a choirboy at York Minster, at Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester and as organ scholar at Clare College Cambridge. His studies with Gustav and Marie Leonhardt further inspired his work in the field of historical performance.

He is increasingly sought-after by non-period orchestras ranging from the Scottish, Swedish and Australian chamber orchestras to the Rotterdam Philharmonic, Berlin Konzerthausorchester, and Dallas Symphony Orchestra. He made his Glyndebourne debut in 2007 conducting a staged St Matthew Passion.

He records exclusively for Harmonia Mundi where his solo output comprises works by Frescobaldi, Gibbons, Couperin, Purcell, Froberger, Mozart, and J. S. Bach (Goldberg Variations and Well-Tempered Clavier). He has an impressive list of award-winning recordings with Andrew Manze, including sonatas by Bach, Biber, Rebel, Pandolfi, Corelli, Handel, Mozart, and Schubert. With the Academy of Ancient Music he has recorded Bach’s harpsichord concertos and Brandenburg Concertos. In Handel year 2009 they completed a seven-CD series of Handel discs including the instrumental music opp.1, 2 and 5, the Concerti Grossi Op.3 (which won a Gramophone Award in 2007) and the Organ Concertos op.4 (MIDEM Award and Edison Award 2009) and Op.7.

Now from Harmonia Mundi comes a recording by Richard Egarr of Bach’s French Suites played on a particularly fine copy by Joel Katzman (Haarlem, 2015) of a harpsichord by Joseph Johannes Couchet (Antwerp, c.1650)

HMU 907583-84

Around 1722, not long after Johann Sebastian Bach’s (1685-1750) marriage, his second wife, Anna Magdalena started an album in which he entered compositions for her to play. They include five short harpsichord suites, BWV 812-816, the first versions of what would become the French Suites. The sixth suite is thought to have been added during his early years in Leipzig to where he moved in 1723. The suites are not particularly French in any way; indeed the title was added later to distinguish them from the English Suites and Partitas.

The Allemande of Suite No.1 in D minor, BWV 812 is beautifully phrased and structured with Richard Egarr finding some lovely varied textures from his instrument. The Courante has a real sparkle, tremendous fluency and sense of spontaneity before a stately Sarabande that has a real strength with some lovely decorations. Egarr brings a lovely delicate, transparent flow to Menuet I & II, beautifully shaped with this fine musician again finding a variety of textures with a sense of never ending flow. The Gigue brings some fine, crisp rhythmic phrases, full of panache. Absolutely terrific.

The Allemande of Suite No. 2 in C minor, BWV 813 has a fine flow with terrific phrasing. Egarr has such a fine fluent touch whilst finding every detail. He brings terrific spirit and energy to the captivating Courante with the fine textures of this instrument beautifully revealed. The Sarabande brings a lovely, rather languid feel, beautifully laid out with a fine left hand counterpoint, again finding a fine flow. The Air is nothing short of breathtaking in its forward drive, fluency and sparkle with a Menuet I that is the perfect complement. The concluding Gigue has a gorgeous rhythmic spring, wonderfully phrased, with an infectious quality.

Suite No. 3 in B minor, BWV 814 brings some wonderful musical lines as the Allemande flows ahead with fine phrasing, textures and colouring. The Courante sparkles, full of energy with Richard Egarr in full flight, providing a terrific forward impulse. There is a Sarabande that has a delightful delicacy with a certain melancholy to its lovely theme before the Menuet I & II (Trio) brings a steady rhythm to which Egarr adds some beautifully varied textures and colours, later finding a stronger forward flow. A light textured Angloise (Gavotte) finds this player wonderfully negotiating all the twists and turns with such fine fluency before a quite lovely Gigue, full of energy and sparkle, as if caught on the wing, such is the spontaneity and panache.

Suite No. 4 in E flat major, BWV 815 opens with an Allemande that has a wonderfully mellow, gentle quality with Egarr bringing some particularly fine tone from this instrument. The Courante has a real spring, galloping ahead full of life, finely shaped before a finely laid out, slow, broad Sarabande laying bare Bach’s fine harmonies. There is a lovely little Gavotte to which Egarr brings a fine simplicity, beautifully phrased and paced. The Air picks up with lively phrases, this player bringing a terrific clarity to the fast moving phrases. Egarr finds so much variety in the little Menuet before a lovely bouncing, rhythmic Gigue with fine decorations, exquisitely phrased.

Egarr brings a fine range of textures and sonorities from his instrument in the Allemande of Suite No.5 in G major, BWV 816 revealing lovely detail with some glorious sounds from this harpsichord. He raises a real sparkle in the fast moving Courante, brilliantly fluent, never losing any clarity. There is some exquisite Bach revealed in the Sarabande with wonderful phrasing, textures and details. It just seems so perfect. The Gavotte gets a real lift with crisp, spruce rhythms, Egarr bringing a real sense of joy before a Bourrée that brings some absolutely terrific passages as the music speeds ahead with terrific energy and brio. There is a broadly laid out Loure revealing some very fine textures and sonorities from this instrument. Finally there is a rollicking Gigue where Egarr delivers a terrific fluency and some really fine textures. A real joy.

There is a wonderfully gentle forward flow to the Allemande of Suite No.6 in E major, BWV 817 allowing the Bach’s invention to unfold wonderfully, again finding lovely textures. The Courante is full of life and energy, dashing ahead brilliantly with tremendous fluency. There are glorious textures in the Sarabande, this instrumentalist bringing a fine flexibility of tempo in the intricate little phrases. After a crisp and beautifully phrased Gavotte the Polonaise brings some wonderfully varied rhythms as well as some lovely textures. The Menuet is finely shaped before the Bourrée dashes off, full of energy, yet with Egarr always keeping fine phrasing and detail. Egarr illuminates the musical lines of the Gigue brilliantly, finding more terrific fluency as it progresses.  

Richard Egarr has chosen some interesting pieces to conclude this set in the form of a quite lovely, finely shaped Menuet II to the Suite No. 2 in C minor, BWV 813 and three alternative Courantes to the second suite. Courante, BWV 813/II: (after the autograph, Klavierbüchlein 1722), Courante, BWV 813/II: (after the copy by H. N. Gerber) and Courante, BWV 813/II: Courante (after the copy by Anna Magdalena Bach, Klavierbüchlein 1725).

These are infectious performances of Bach’s French Suites that one will wish to return to over and over again. Richard Egarr gives such musicianly accounts, characterful and always a subtle spring in his step. There is something about Egarr’s phrasing, textures and ornamentations that just grab the ear. Above all Egarr reminds us again just how wonderful Bach’s invention was.

The recording from the Vereenigde Doopsgezinde, Harlem, Netherlands is really wonderful, avoiding any stridency yet revealing the detail, textures and sonority of the instrument. 

There are informative notes from Richard Egarr. 

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