Bach: French Suites

Bach: French Suites
Julian Perkins, clavichord
Resonus RES10163. 58’11+67’26

Bach: French Suites BWV 812-817; Froberger: Partita 2 in d; Telemann: Suite in A.

The programme notes explain the rational for recording these pieces on clavichord rather than harpsichord, with a convincing argument based on the four-octave compass of the pieces and the didactic nature of their composition, in this case, for his recent (and second) wife Anna Magdalena. This is private, domestic music for home performance or teaching purposes, rather than the more elaborate pieces Bach wrote for public performance, using the larger compass of the harpsichord, for example the three non-organ parts of the Clavierübung. It is also the case that the clavichord was the principal home practice instrument for organists, because the arm to finger weight transfer required is similar for both instruments.

Julian Perkins’ playing is sensitive and musical. He makes excellent use of ornaments, both realised from the score and also added improvisational ornaments, all forming an integral part of the music line, rather than being the often heard ‘add-ons’ to the texture. He also adopts an attractively free approach to interpretation, entirely appropriate given the complications of the sources of these suites. Most, but not all repeats are included, and the repeats are treated with slightly more freedom and some textural additions. As well as the six French Suites, there are also single suites from Froberger and Telemann, both composers studied by Bach; the latter’s Suite in A previously thought to have been by Bach (as BWV 824).

Two clavichords are used, both modern copies by Peter Bavington. The first CD, with Suites I-III, uses a diatonically fretted clavichord based on a surviving instrument by Johann Jacob Bodechtel from Nuremberg. The second CD uses a larger unfretted clavichord, based on an instrument in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg, that is probably by Johann Heinrich Silbermann, nephew of the famous organ builder Gottfried Silbermann. More information on the instruments can be found here.

Julian Perkins acknowledges the support of the British Clavichord Society (see here) together with a number of other influences and subscribers. As with all clavichord recordings, it is well worth playing part of another CD first in order to set the volume. The clavichord is an intimate instrument, and should sound quiet. Without this test against ‘normal’ volume, the temptation is play clavichord recordings at too loud a volume. The notes usefully include links to several different on-line versions of the French Suites if you want to study the complex source issues. But I recommend turning off the lights, lighting a candle, sitting back and just letting the music flow.

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