The legendary Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire specializes in the 19th century and has turned to recording Bach in his eighth decade, apparently for the first time. All you can say is that it was worth the wait. His Bach is typically restrained, not unaware of the long tradition of Bach piano performances, but decidedly unlike anyone else's approach. In general, Freire is pianistic without applying a lot of pedal. It's there, but it applies only the slightest shades, and it can fade away quickly. Instead, Freire applies a great variety of attacks and textures, all subtle and well considered. The program falls into three parts, the first two interlocking. There is a pair of big quasi-improvisatory pieces, the Toccata in C minor, BWV 911, and the Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D minor, BWV 903. These don't get their usual epic quality, but they get something else instead: an uncanny, even spooky interiority, an entrée into their existence as improvisatory works. There are two dance-suite pieces, the Partita No. 4 in D major for keyboard, BWV 828, and the English Suite No. 3 in G minor, BWV 808. These have little in the way of dance rhythms, but much that reflects the French origin of the style: the music is ornate, complex, fascinatingly closed in. At the end everything relaxes into beauty, with Bach's arrangement of a concerto movement by Marcello and then a series of chorale preludes, ending with the Myra Hess transcription of Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring, from the Cantata No. 147. These are limpid and really transcendent. Freire is backed by excellent unfussy engineering from Decca at the Friedrich Ebert-Halle (also the recording site of the first Beatles album), and the end result is a short Bach program to treasure.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Partita No. 4 in D major, BWV 828|
|English Suite No. 3 in G minor, BWV 808|
|Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D minor, BWV 903|
|Concerto in D minor, BWV 974|
|Prelude & Fugue in G minor, BWV 535|
|Cantata No. 147 BWV 147|