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Johann Sebastian BACH (1686-1750)
The Partitas BWV825-830: Partita in the French Style BWV831 [131:17]
Italian Concerto BWV971 [12:52]
Chromatic fantasy and Fugue BWV903 [11:38]
Helmut Walcha (harpsichord)
rec. 1957-60
DOREMI DHR7985-86 [76:43 + 79:54]

Few sets of Bach’s organ music were more admirable than those of the blind German organist Helmut Walcha (1907-91). He left behind two sets of the complete works and he also taped the most important harpsichord works for EMI-Electrola. This two-CD release traces some of the latter works in recordings made between 1957 and 1960.
Playing on an Ammer harpsichord, Walcha’s traversal of the six Partitas, BWV825-830 and the B minor ‘in the French style’ BWV831 reveals his elevated, logical, direct and intellectually profound penetration into the heart of the music. There are no extraneous gestures and no frippery. Tempi are solid, unexaggerated, and wholly consonant in the context of each partita and in the context of the partitas as a whole. Finger clarity is assured, and articulation is varied but within sure expressive boundaries.
As the Minuets of the B flat major Partita display, left hand voicings are deftly but considerately pointed. Hand weight is balanced. But the music is not under-characterised. The Burlesca of the A minor Partita is certainly noted by Walcha but he doesn’t draw excessive attention to it. Nor does he draw attention to his virtuosic command in the opening Toccata of the E minor or his acutely perceptive characterisation of each of the partita’s succeeding movements.
There may be some who find the relative sobriety of his approach a little reserved. But listening to the nobility of his performance of the Ouverture of the D major or the darker colouration evoked in the similar movement of the B minor one would be hard pressed to deny Walcha his sovereign status in this music, still less when the echo effects of the last movement of the B minor are pointed so sensibly.
There are two other works in this set, the first being the Italian Concerto in a measured, controlled and highly communicative performances. And then there’s a commensurately grand performance of the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue, though again, here, Walcha places his technical command at the music’s service.
The sound of these discs is very attractive. The notes are brief. The music-making lives long in the memory.
Jonathan Woolf