Two Part Inventions in F major and F minor - The F major invention is
another happy and infectious piece with an irresistable playful quality.
Hewitt is once again the fastest paced and sounds rushed. None of the
three harpsichord versions fully provides the playful quality, but Gould,
Serkin, and Schiff deliver it all with Gould using the most staccato.
Concerning Gould, many folks do not appreciate what they consider a
tendency for perverse interpretations accompanied with a strong staccato
approach. I'm not finding Gould perverse at all, and his staccato is a
strength. In this respect, he reminds me of Tureck's superb DG Goldberg
With the F minor invention, we enter a morose world where bad things exist
at every turn, not the type that slams into you but the type that gradually
and conclusively renders one immobile. Frankly, none of the versions hits
the bulls-eye. Koopman rushes along, Serkin and Gould play the piece as a
funeral dirge, and the remainder are not expressive enough. There are no
major league performances for this invention.
Two Part Inventions in G major and G minor - The G major is a short and
thoroughly joyous piece. Whether the tempo is fast or slow, joy is the
prevalent mood. Concering tempos, Gould comes in at just over 40 seconds,
Hewitt is close by, and Suzuki takes over 1 minute and 20 seconds. There
is some joy in Gould's reading, but it's the type involving getting your
next "fix". Hewitt bangs away on the keys seemingly oblivious to any other
consideration except speed. Schiff is also low on joy and he goes out like
a lamb instead of a tiger (the ending has a powerful potential that only
Schiff inverts). Koopman, Laberge, Serkin, and Suzuki get it right, and
Suzuki does it with a more mature type of joy which rings out fully.
Before playing the G minor versions, I checked the timings and was
very surprised at the wide variation among the versions. Gould is faster
than a speeding bullet with Schiff close behind. Serkin is unconditionally
slow. But, the piece can work well at either extreme. For me, the
emotions of the G minor convey a foreboding of the future which is
intermittently relieved by more positive directions. All versions are very
good except for Laberge's which is too choppy and Schiff's which is rather
dour and hardly brings out any uplifting elements.
Two Part Inventions in A major and A minor - The A major has a happy theme
that I connect to a family outing that goes beautifully. Gould, as in the
G minor invention, speeds along. That alone does not put him out of the
running, but any semblance of poetry is suspended and that's the kiss of
death. Serkin is disqualified for some overly cute playing and an
inordinate degree of bass line emphasis which was unpleasant to hear.
The other versions are fine without being outstanding.
For the A minor, the family outing is at an end as family members say
their goodbyes and drive off to their respective homes. This music is
very nostalgic and reflective; a high degree of poetry is needed as these
emotions are highlighted. Serkin and Suzuki are great at conveying the
full dimensions of the piece. The others are not sufficiently expressive.
Gould is again extremely fast; those images of mine go out the window.
The problem is that nothing replaces them except that Gould is engaged
in a test of speed.
Inventions in B flat major and B minor - The B flat major invention
can be played in an exuberant or tender manner; both approaches are very
effective. Tempos tend to be faster for the exuberant approach, slower
to exact greater tenderness. Schiff tries to be tender but ends up just
being fussy and overly delicate. Hewitt's has some exuberance, but she
plays in a heavy-handed manner, a trait she routinely applies to the two
part inventions. Koopman is definitely exuberant, but his harpsichord has
a clangy quality that detracts from listening enjoyment. Laberge isn't
really exuberant or tender; the best thing he has going is a lovely
harpsichord sound. Three versions are excellent: Gould, Serkin, and
Suzuki. Gould slows down for the B flat major but still provides maximum
exuberance and his part playing is stunning; don't expect much tenderness
from Gould. Serkin also takes the piece slowly but with a great degree of
tenderness. Suzuki is fairly quick and deliciously enthusiastic. When
playing his version, I had the image of "Dennis The Menace" barreling down
the sidewalk on his bike determined to have fun with "Mr. Wilson" by
terrorizing Wilson's psyche and body parts.
The B minor invention has a lurking/menacing beginning but then brightens
up. Gould, once again, is the fastest but not unreasonably so. His
reading has a very powerful finish, and I would say that his performance
is aligned with the "macho man" image; I loved it. Surprisingly, Hewitt's
is the slowest performance, and here she supplies all the poetry that's
generally lacking with her other inventions. I have Suzuki continuing with
Dennis the Menace as he ties Mr. Wilson up in the fireplace and fries him
to a crisp; things do improve as the new neighbors have twin boys who
Dennis loves to play with. You can't blame little kids for the mischief
they get into. Schiff and Serkin are not good - too fussy and mannered.
That's it for the two part inventions. Suzuki, on harpsichord, presents
the best interpretations. He's on target more than the others, and his
harpsichord sounds wonderful. Serkin is close behind; he tends to be
highly poetic without Schiff's overly delicate approach, and his piano
sound is the best of the versions. Gould is next; he could have been at
the top except for some extremely fast tempos. Gould plays these pieces
as if they are part of the Well Tempered Clavier, but the inventions are
much more delicate pieces and Gould does not recognize the difference.
But when he slows down, nobody can touch him. Koopman is a little behind
Gould; his interpretions highlight the enthusiasm of the inventions, but
he is hampered by a harpsichord sound which often is rather unpleasant.
Schiff, Laberge, and Hewitt bring up the rear. Hewitt simply plays in a
heavy manner, with little poetry, and the recorded sound exacerbates the
problem. Laberge is somewhat unmemorable except for that great harpsichord
sound. It does sadden me a little to place Schiff toward the bottom; my
memory of his performances was much better than I'm discovering now. He
is generally a poetic and delicate pianist, so I'm surprised at the trouble
he has with these delicate pieces. The problem appears to be that he
overestimated the degree of poetry needed and tended to get "cute", a
quality I never cared for in Bach. I could live without Laberge and Hewitt
all together. I would want to keep Schiff if for no other reason than his
superb performance of the E major invention, a fantastic piece of music.
My next posting will herald in the three part inventions and an eighth
version - Jeffrey Kahane's on Nonesuch. From what I remember, Mr. Kahane
will provide very stiff competition. It will also be interesting to see if
the three part inventions *are* more complicated and profound than the two
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