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Listen What the Cat Dragged In: Bach's Partitas

available at Amazon
J.S.Bach, Partitas 1-6,
Irma Issakadze - Oehms
available at Amazon
J.S.Bach, Partitas 1, 5, 6,
M.Perahia - Sony
available at Amazon
J.S.Bach, Partitas 2, 3, 4,
M.Perahia - Sony
available at Amazon
J.S.Bach, Partitas 4, 6,
F.Kempf - BIS
available at Amazon
J.S.Bach, Partitas 3, 4, 6,
J.Denk - Azica

Over on WETA, where March is Bach-Month: "Organic Bach"

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Perhaps the Six Partitas (Clavier-Übung Part 1) really are the highlight among Bach’s output for solo keyboard. At least that’s what they should sound like in the moment you’re listening to them. Assuming they’re played very well, of course.


The young Georgian pianists Irma Issakadze achieves that feat on her latest, second disc for Oehms. That’s something not even the great András Schiff (on his earlier Decca recording) manages. Her complete recording appears amid a whole slew of new discs with Bach’s Partitas, including two by Freddy Kempf (BIS) and three by Jeremy Denk (Azica). Last year Vladimir Ashkenazy (Decca) threw his hat in the ring, in 2009 András Schiff (ECM) and Murray Perahia (Sony) added (or completed) new sets of the Partitas to the catalog.


I haven’t heard the new Schiff [Edit: I have now, and it quite surpasses the entire piano-competition with its supreme approximation of dance] or Ashkenazy, but Perahia sets the bar high enough for any challenger. His Bach recordings on Sony have all been wonderfully recorded, with resonance and clarity—and Perahia’s generally romantic style, concerned with phrasing and musicality more than anything else. His for a truly pianistic Bach among the big name pianists, he remains the obvious most recommendation. In comparison Schiff on Decca sounds timid and dry. He connects notes with ease when necessary (take the Fantasia of Partita No.3) and separates them again with agile grace. The way Perahia takes his fingers off the keys, caresses the space between the notes in piano and pianissimo is simply marvelous.


Denk, who sounds quite well taken on his own, comes across as wooden and unimaginative when compared to the competition. The calm pulse of Irma Issakadze meanwhile, and her Perahia-like pianistic, more celebratory—indeed orchestral—rendition, need not shy away from any direct comparison. Only on the rarest occasion does her approach sound less fortunate; the mechanical first Menuet of Partita No. 1 being such an exception, or the Gigue that is bubbles maniacally but hasn’t the animated wit of Schiff. (Perahia is curiously leaden here.) Freddy Kempf’s recording only accommodates Partitas Nos. 4 and 6, but at his best he is rhythmically imaginative and supple like no one else. That Perahia is as good as he is, is not surprising. The happy surprise of this lot is clearly Irma Issakadze, especially after her preceding disc of the Goldberg Variations didn’t jolt me from my seat.