Masaaki Suzuki

Bach: English Suites

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Conductor and keyboardist Masaaki Suzuki, having completed his magisterial survey of Bach's cantatas with his Bach Collegium Japan, has been traversing Bach's keyboard music at a leisurely pace, with quiet recordings that somehow have the flavor of a self-reward for a job well done. If you haven't heard Suzuki's recordings of the more celebrated Bach masterpieces, the English Suites, written around 1715 (and not really English save for their apparent dedicatee), may make a good and typical place to start. You may have wondered whether Suzuki's keyboard playing reflects an approach similar to his choral conducting, and here the answer is decidedly yes. Suzuki's approach is restrained, with clarity of polyphony a key priority in the faster movements. He does not emphasize dance rhythms, and in the courantes, he seems almost to run counter to them (sample the one in the Suite No. 5 in F major, BWV 810, by way of example). In the slow dances, he has just the kind of sensuous but well-spoken warmth that his slow cantata choruses did, and this is all to the good. In terms of improvisation, Suzuki is circumspect about ornamentation, but there's a good deal there when you focus on it; it is just done in a way that seems inevitable and natural. Each suite here has a prelude, probably influenced by lute music, and these are especially elegant. BIS engineers contribute fine sound from the same Japanese school chapel where the cantatas were recorded, and the album will certainly satisfy Suzuki fans and probably make a few more.

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