Murray Perahia

Johann Sebastian Bach: The French Suites

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Approaching age 70, American pianist Murray Perahia moves with this release from his longtime home of Sony Classical, formerly Columbia Masterworks, to Deutsche Grammophon. The set of Bach's six French Suites, BWV 812-817, was recorded in a Berlin studio in 2013, but did not appear until three years later. This probably testifies to the complexity of the move, but whatever the case, the wait has been worth it. Perahia has long been a marvelous Bach pianist, but the French Suites perhaps display his skills especially well. The "French suites" designation was applied by later writers, not by Bach himself, but they do capture something of the music, even if the dances involved were as much Italian as French by the time Bach composed them in 1722. They apply deep counterpoint to dance rhythms, and Perahia's genius resides not in some great overarching concept of how to play Bach but in finding the balance between disparate elements in a work, and in finding the human warmth in the result. Each movement is distinctive; each moment unfolds something new. You could really start sampling anywhere, but try the final gigue of the second suite, in C minor, where the little ornaments that form the central feature of the movement each take on a rather eerie individual significance. Perahia avoids extremes of tempo, and his extremely detailed approach could be called intellectual, but only if that word did not denote a certain coolness: Perahia is never cool. A wonderful Bach recording of the sort that one will return to again and again.

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