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CLASSICAL  May 2005

CLASSICAL May 2005

Subject:

Edward Parmentier Plays Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier

From:

Donald Satz <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 2 May 2005 20:58:25 +0000

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Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Well-Tempered Clavier Book I, BWV 846-869

Edward Parmentier, harpsichord
Recorded Bethel United Church of Christ,
Bethel, Michigan (dates not provided)
Released October 2004
Wildboar WLBRO401 [2cds - 61:31 + 64:58]

To those who value historically informed performance practices, Edward
Parmentier is a beacon of light on Bach's sound world.  Professor of
Harpsichord and Director of Early Music ensembles at the University
of Michigan, Parmentier has impeccable credentials further established
through his studies with Albert Fuller and Gustav Leonhardt.  Parmentier
records frequently for the Wildboar label, with previous discs including
Bach's Toccatas/Partitas/English Suites as well as recordings of the
music of Scarlatti, Corelli, and the French Baroque masters.  From my
attendance on the Bach Recordings website, it is clear that serious Bach
enthusiasts consider Parmentier one of the leading Bach authorities and
performing artists in the United States.

Parmentier's recordings of the Well Tempered Clavier have been keenly
anticipated, and I am pleased to report that they include a number of
outstanding features.  'Pristine Bach' is always a welcome element, and
I've not heard a more immaculate account than Parmentier's.  Adding to
this effect is the wonderful detail in the readings as Parmentier allows
us to explore every architectural element, thereby giving us the opportunity
to break the music down into its smallest components, then build it up
to its magnificent sweep and inevitability.  Another fantastic feature
is the balance among voices that Parmentier achieves.  You will not
hear another recording where this balance is as perfect as Parmentier's.
Other prevalent aspects of the performances are judiciously placed
hesitations, a full display of the unbridled joy in Bach's music,
and a rather slow pacing that further enhances the scope of detail.

Unfortunately, Parmentier's performance of the Well-Tempered Clavier
displays the same reservations I have had concerning his earlier Bach
recordings for Wildboar.  He does not appear to give much priority to
the excitement and drive of Bach's music, preferring to emphasize the
balance and detail of Bach's contrapuntal lines as well as the overall
architecture.

My major reservation concerns a restraint on Parmentier's part concerning
emotional intensity.  This restraint permeates his interpretations and
is most noticeable in the angst-ridden pieces including the Prelude in
C sharp minor, Fugue in E flat minor, Prelude and Fugue in E minor, Fugue
in G sharp minor, and the Prelude and Fugue in B flat minor.  These works
present a bleak and austere severity that is then set against Bach's
rays of light; the contrast can be transcendent, but only if the severity
is very intense.  This is where I find Parmentier's set not among the
most rewarding on the market.

Don's Conclusions: A superb set except for the reservations noted above.
Parmentier offers us a level of detail and balance of voices not found
on any other recordings.  I do recommend that readers investigate the
interpretations of Glen Wilson on Teldec, Gustav Leonhardt on EMI, and
Kenneth Gilbert on Archiv; these three sets better convey the intensity
of Bach's music.  Concerning the sonics, I couldn't ask for a more
flattering soundstage than the one provided by Wildboar.  It is crisp,
clear, and perfectly suited to Parmentier's detailed approach.  His
harpsichord of choice was constructed by Keith Hill in 1987.

By the way, Parmentier's Prelude and Fugue in D major deserves special
mention.  The Prelude, built on continuous semi-quavers and a staccato
bass line, is bright and lively music that Parmentier plays in a robust
and joyous fashion.  Its fugal partner is heroic music in the form of a
French Overture; Parmentier plays it quite slowly which allows all the
delicious detail to come forth.  The D major exhibits most of Parmentier's
interpretive strengths and would be an excellent sampling for readers
to use in considering acquisition of the set.  As for myself, I have
great respect for Parmentier's performances, but I can't report that
my affection for them is strong.

Don Satz
[log in to unmask]

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