Listening to Malcolm Proud’s excellent rendition of Johann Sebastian Bach: Six partitas for harpsichord, Clavier Übung I, BWV825-830 (Maya MCD1301, rec 2012, 156’) felt very welcoming, almost like coming home. This has, of course, more than one reason. The pieces themselves are indeed very familiar and close to my heart, as is probably true for most keyboard players nowadays. The sound skilfully produced by Proud on a Ruckers copy is very warm, sensitive and versatile, and his interpretation, which generally tends towards reasonable if not moderate tempi, is very tasteful and appropriate, with just the right portioning of ornamentation and variation between repeats. Another reason, though, has to do with the recording technique. The soundstage in this recording is very coherent and the microphones are located and mixed in a way that places the listener at the player’s position, hearing the higher notes from the right and the the lower notes from the left. To a certain extent, the listeners are taken into a virtual reality where they can hear everything from the harpsichordist’s point of view. Being a harpsichordist, I felt very much at home in this setting and was absolutely delighted to experience Malcolm Proud’s angelic playing from this perspective.
(Early Music November 2015)
Bach composed three sets of keyboard suites, culminating in the Partitas. Not only are they more elaborate and technically challenging than the English and French Suites, but they offer both player and listener a more sumptuously rich experience. Furthermore, it is curious that it was the last set of keyboard works he wrote, yet was the first to be published, under his direction, as Clavier-Ubung 1 (keyboard practice). The Partitas were published individually between 1726 and 1730, then together as his Op. 1 in 1731.
There is a trend these days to perform Bach keyboard works almost exclusively on the piano. My familiarity with the Partitas has been almost completely with piano versions by such performers as Gould, Hewitt, Schiff, Perahia, Goode and Tureck though I do possess the Kirkpatrick and Pinnock harpsichord versions. There is a compelling case for authentic performance of these works. After all, the piano was still only in its early stages of development when Bach was around. It was left to his son C.P.E. Bach to realize the piano’s full potential. Hence, the piano and the harpsichord offer a different dimension, and are both equally valid. Some would even argue that the very nature and mechanics of the harpsichord are more conducive to achieving greater precision and clarity in the delineation of the several contrapuntal strands.
These are very compelling and cultivated performances that Malcolm Proud has on offer. Repeats are observed, and are tastefully ornamented. Articulation and clarity are maintained throughout. The Allemandes of Partitas 1 and 4 were rather slow and ponderous, but otherwise tempi seem comfortable and judiciously chosen. The Ouverture to Partita 4 has a sublime grandeur, and curiously its Sarabande has been inserted between the Courante and the Aria. This proves to be a very effective step, placing a slower movement between two brisk ones, thus creating more of a contrast. The Sarabandes form the emotional core of each work, and Proud renders each with warmth and lyricism. The Gigues have a youthful exuberance and sparkle, and are imbued with energy. All in all, Proud gets to the soul of Bach with these performances.
The harpsichord used in this recording is a copy of a 1624 example by Joannes Ruckers of Antwerp. It was built in 2007 by Kevin Fryer. I was very enamoured of the full-blooded yet bright sound of this instrument. The exceptional richness of timbre adds depth and clarity. The Leuven Institute offers an ideal venue and acoustic. David Ledbetter’s liner-notes set the context admirably. Those who are dubious about the effectiveness of the harpsichord as opposed to the piano in these works, should give these recordings a try. They have certainly won me over and I shall be revisiting them often.
j.s. bach – six partitas for harpsichord
"Clavier Übung – bestehend in Praeludien, Allemanden, Couranten, Sarabanden und Giguen, Menuetten und anderen Galanterien; Denen Liebhabern zur Gemüths Ergoetzung verfertigt von Johann Sebastian Bach, Musikdirektor zu Leipzig, Opus 1“, übertitelte Bach seine 6 Partiten für Cembalo (BWV 825-830). Dass die „Clavir Übung 1“ mehr als nur Galanterien zur Ergötzung des Gemüts sind, braucht nicht erst zu diskutiert werden. Vom „Alten Testament“ ist die Rede, wenn Beethovens Klaviersonaten als Neues betrachtet werden wollen. Aber man braucht nicht bibelfest und schon gar nicht gläubig zu sein, um an Bach zu glauben und ein Wort von Mauricio Kagel abzuwandeln. Bachs Musik verträgt viel an interpretatorischem Spielraum und doch nur wenig, wenn es stimmt. Denn dann ist nichts mehr spürbar von der Einmischung, die Interpretinnen und Interpreten, Klangumsetzerinnen und -umsetzer oft und persönlich mit sich bringen. Hier stimmt es wieder einmal und selten, wenn der irische Cembalist Malcolm Proud als Klangmedium dient und die Partiten auf einer Doppel-CD darlegt. Es klingt so wenig spektakulär, dies zu attestieren, wenn einem dies überhaupt zusteht, und doch ist es so. Prouds Logik der Darstellung ist natürlich eine nicht nur rationale, sondern eine gefühlsbetont klare. Damit meint er nicht seine eigene Gefühlwelt, sondern das radikal Atmende dieser Geniemusik und mehr. Es stimmt! (ente.me, Freistil Magazine, Austria)
j.s. bach – six partitas for harpsichord
“Keyboard Practice consisting of Preludes, Allemandes, Courantes, Sarabandes, Gigues, Menuets, and other galanteries; prepared for the delight of spirit for music lovers by Johann Sebastian Bach… Director of Music in Leipzig. Opus 1.”, …Bach named his six partitas for cembalo (BWV 825-830). The fact that “Clavir Übung 1” is more than a galantery for the delight of spirit does not even need to be discussed. They talk about the “Old Testament” when looking at Beethoven’s piano sonatas as something new. However, you don’t have to be well versed in the bible nor religious in order to believe in Bach and to variegate a quote by Mauricio Kagel.* Bach’s music allows for a lot of interpretational space and yet only very little if it is true. Because at that point you no longer notice the interference which the artist, the sound interpreter often and as his personal touch brings along. Here it works for once, as a rarity when the Irish harpsichordist Malcolm Proud serves as sound medium, presenting the partitas on a double CD. It doesn’t sound particularly spectacular to certify this, if one is even entitled to do so, but this is still how it is. Proud’s logic of presentation obviously is not only a rational one, but an emotionally clear one. And with that he is not talking about his own emotional world but the radical breathing of this ingenious music and much more. It works! (ente.me)
Mauricio Kagel: was er sagte, ist eines der schönsten Zitate zu Johann Sebastian Bach
* Es mag sein, dass ein Komponist nicht an Gott glaubt, an Bach glauben jedoch alle!
Translation of the quote : It can be that a composer does not believe in god... but everybody believes in Bach !