Johann Sebastian Bach(1685-1750)
English Suites Nos. 4-6
English Suite No. 4 in F major, BWV 809
No. 5 in E minor, BWV 810
No. 6 in D minor, BWV 811
Naxos 8.553013 - Recorded 1995
Wolfgang Rubsam, Piano
Andras Schiff - Decca 421640 - TT 67:48(4-6)
Glenn Gould - Sony 42268 - TT 58:41(4-6)
Just to recap a little, the three previous Rubsam discs I reviewed are
excellent recordings, particularly the discs of the Partitas. I'm getting
to the point where I expect outstanding performances from Rubsam, and he
does not disappoint in the these three English Suites.
English Suite No. 4 - Matters go splendidly for Rubsam in the first
three movements; although his Courante is quite slow, he provides all the
benefits of Gould and Schiff but with a much wider range of emotions and
more distinct voice interplay. Rubsam's Sarabande is lovely and poignant,
but it can't match the magical ornamentation that Gould provides. There
are no problems with Rubsam's Gigue which ripples with excitement.
My only reservation with Rubsam's Suite No. 4 resides with his
Menuet series. As with the Prelude and Courante, Rubsam slows down the
proceedings. However, in this case I don't feel that any benefits flow
from the decision. The reading just sounds less vital and youthful than
either Gould or Schiff. On balance, Rubsam's performance of Suite No.
4 is excellent. Overall, I prefer Gould largely for his exquisite and
commanding Sarabande and ceremonial Menuet.
English Suite No. 5 - If any situation brings home to me the value of
having multiple versions of the same work, it's the Gould and Rubsam
performances. Although outstanding in the previous Suite, Gould really
hits his stride in No. 5. He is thrilling, insistent, driven to resolve,
and imaginative with his rhythms. Gould's concluding Gigue is a rock of
power and excitement; in the first theme, it seems that he engages in a
deconstruction which is then rebuilt in the inverted second theme. Rubsam
is not much concerned with thrills or momentum. His tempos are relaxing
when the music can accomodate, the interpretations are expansive and
thought-provoking, and the whiff of improvisation is usually in the air.
At the same time, Rubsam delivers plenty of power in the Gigue, although
the conception is far different than Gould's. In the Prelude, Allemande,
Courante, and Passepied series, it's like listening to different music.
Although I have my personal preferences, both versions are essential to my
library and highly treasured.
English Suite No. 6 - Another outstanding performance by Rubsam. He
equals the exceptional Schiff Prelude with a wide level of expressiveness.
His Allemande and Courante are leisurely and incisively performed; the
Gavotte II is delicate and pristine. Although Rubsam does not deliver the
power that others provide to the Gigue, he offers gradations of dynamics
that are compelling.
Don's Conclusions: This Rubsam disc is another essential acquisition
to add to the previous three Rubsam discs I reviewed. Overall, we get
no mainstream interpretations from Rubsam. We also do not get performances
with high priority on drive, momentum, and excitement. Rubsam's approach
is to think through each movement; I usually get the feeling that he's
thinking as he plays. Improvisatory elements are strong, and Rusam never
slights the poetry and depth of Bach's music. Rubsam's Allemandes and
Courantes are particularly illuminating and memorable. At premium price,
these four recordings would be a 'steal'; at Naxos prices, they are the
deal of the century. There are still a few more Rubsam/Bach solo keyboard
recordings from Naxos to obtain, and I intend to acquire them promptly.
I recommend you do the same.
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