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Cédric Tiberghien, Bach Keyboard Partitas

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J. S. Bach, Keyboard Partitas 2-4, Cédric Tiberghien, piano (released October 11, 2005)
Harmonia Mundi HMC901869
The 30-year-old French pianist Cédric Tiberghien has given a lot of concerts and made a lot of recordings for someone his age. Having spent some time listening to his latest recording, released this past October (listen to some sound samples), it's easy to see why. He has extraordinary facility of technique, impressive power, and a daring sense of sound and texture. His upcoming concert schedule is full of engagements, but only in Europe. He has apparently made at least one appearance in the United States, at Carnegie Hall in November 2000.

Tiberghien takes all of the repeats in the three partitas he selected, but with no ornamentation, which misses the whole point of a Baroque repetition. In fact, there appear to be few changes in articulation or shading either. In the allemande of the second partita (C minor, BWV 826), the only real changes I noticed were some 32nd notes in the first section that he slightly flubbed the first time through and got right the second time. That trend continues through pretty much the whole CD. The sarabande here is taken at a droopy pace that does the piece, already somewhat sphinxian, a disservice. He may have chosen the tempo to offer the greatest contrast with the dry, crazed rendition of the rondeau that follows it, as well as the marvelously delineated three voices of the driven capriccio that concludes this partita.

The third partita (A minor, BWV 827) opens with a two-voice fantasia, to which Tiberghien applies the same dry and rhythmic treatment, one of the qualities I very much admire about some of Glenn Gould's Bach. In the partitas (explained very well by musicologist Yo Tomita), the change of name appears to have liberated Bach from the stricter compositional style of the "suites," and he mixes in all sorts of movements with more traditional dances. At the same time, amid pieces that have a more orchestral sensibility, the allemande of this partita retains the lute-like stile brisé, negotiated with great finesse by Tiberghien. However, in some of the faster movements like the three-voice gigue, while Tiberghien's technique is always impressive, it also communicates a harshness of touch that is occasionally troublesome.

Oddly, Tiberghien gives a more pianistic than orchestral performance of the French ouverture of the fourth partita (D major, BWV 828), up through the final page or so, when he extends the pedal point A a couple measures beyond what Bach wrote in the score. Another inexplicably slow tempo and full repeats extend this allemande to a length of 11:37, quite pénible. After the first listening, I usually skipped most of it to get to the charming courante, which is full of verve. The sarabande is even more lifeless than the allemande, stretched out to 7:37. Since it's a rounded binary form, you hear that opening two bars of the A section four times, and there's only so much Tiberghien can do to make it interesting at this tempo, except make it slower and more fragile, which is essentially what he does, to soporific effect.

There is some great playing on this disc, and Tiberghien is clearly a talent. However, I cannot imagine myself really returning to this disc again and again, and it would be pretty low on my list of renditions of these pieces. I have heard better things about his 2003 disc, Beethoven: Variations pour Piano, also from Harmonia Mundi.


Princess Alpenrose said...

You know we've all been hating (or salivating in some of your cases) over CD cover photos lately, but I have to say I really liked this one, just focusing on Mr. Tigerghien's hand. Looks like a pianist (I grew up with pianists, hands are important!)

I just thought it was really unique and nice because it sort of captured that sensitivity that pianists have and use in their hands.

(Okay go ahead everybody pick me to shreds for that opinon. Here it comes ...)

Charles T. Downey said...

The photo shows some restraint on Harmonia Mundi's part, not to use only vanity photos for this CD. Not to worry, as there are plenty of photos showing off Tiberghien's good looks inside the booklet.

Anonymous said...

Hands 1

Hands 2

Hands 3

Charles T. Downey said...

Anonymous, thanks for the image links!

Anonymous said...

I heard Cédric's Beethoven recording. I get the impression that he's faking certain things, like the thirds in the "a quattro" variation of the Eroica. I listened to this recording in a library recently, and it was really unsatisfying.

(I've worked on the Eroica for years and even recorded them: the piece is a bitch!)

In his defense, I would offer a few "mitigating circumstances"-type observations.

It appears that this Bach CD was recorded live, and you can get away with a lot in concerts (ie really slow tempi, etc) that you can't in the recording studio.

Recorded live performances *never* capture the magic of the performance, so it's not really fair to judge.

I just listened to a live recording of Cédric playing a Chopin Ballade (#4) live from Wigmore Hall on Radio Three, and I have to say it was excellent.

I am a professional pianist (yes I make my living from concerts) and so I tend to be pretty harsh when judging colleagues, but I have to say: I was impressed with the Ballade.

The guy certainly has a ton of energy; OK so his recordings don't live up to the greats yet... I say give him a few years.

Thanks to you for discussing these things on your blog. It's very important for musicians to know that their work matters to someone out there! Keep supporting classical music!

Charles T. Downey said...

Thanks for all of your insightful comments, especially so given your particularl expertise. It is absolutely true that a live audience's reception is very different from someone listening to a recording, which may account for some of the things I noted.

My nitpicking aside, Tiberghien clearly has great talent, and I am glad to hear that he has met your tough standards in the Chopin you heard. I may not listen to this recording much again, but be sure that I will be listening to his future work.

Anonymous said...

What a fantasie when you are listening him in Mozzart's concerto for piano No 12....
really Mozzart's heaven, celestal performanse...
Where could be find that wonderful thing with this celestal guy or better: piano angel

Anonymous said...

A remark about the concert locations. I think that C. Tiberghien would very much like to give more concerts in the USA, but the US music market is very closed to non-US artists.
He recently got a new agent, who managed to book him for a few concerts in Vermont, Ohio, Maine and Canada (Vancouver), but artists with less influential agents (or with no agent at all if they cannot afford one) are really banned of the North-American live music scene.