Johann SEBASTIAN BACH (1685-1750)
Partita No.1 in B flat major, BWV 825 [20:14]
Partita No.2 in C minor, BWV 826 [22:26]
Partita No.3 in A minor, BWV 827 [21:25]
Partita No.4 in D major, BWV 828 [33:33]
Partita No.5 in G major, BWV 829 [21:46]
Partita No.6 in E minor, BWV 830 [34:28]
David Korevaar (piano)
rec. 22-24 May 2012, Grusin Music Hall, University of Colorado, Boulder.
MSR CLASSICS MS1461 [76:14 + 77:39]
Bach works in mysterious ways. His music can tolerate very different approaches: gentle or harsh, reserved or extravagant, philosophical or energetic. They all might work if the performer puts a grain of soul into it. If you like your Bach serious, with organ-like weight and attention to detail, then you might well like the recording of the Partitas made by the American pianist David Korevaar - a student of Earl Wild.
The overall approach here is sober and profound; the pianist does not pace the clouds but the Earth, and his steps are large and heavy but confident. While he does not have the transparency of, say, Angela Hewitt - yet he can still really sing. There are microscopic divergences from the tempo at times, and not all of them have apparent logical necessity. Sometimes he slows down around the ornamentations, which are very prominently articulated. It seems that he wants to pronounce every note - show to us its beginning and its end. The result is that it makes things a bit heavyweight. At times the pianist seems to concentrate unduly on the pronunciation of the details and loses the main line under these ornamentations. The dynamic range is also not too big - in fact harpsichord-like. This, together with the heavy pace of the left hand and the general evenness can make some episodes boring. More nuance would be welcome, as some stretches sound devoid of emotion. We all know the notes: we want to see them become alive. His Gigues are quite lively, though. The Steinway sound is grand and percussive, which can be tiring during extended listening.
Korevaar takes the First Partita’s Allemande slowly. It is gallant but fanciful; the music loses lightness of tread and tends to stumble. His Sarabande sings, but is also a little stiff. The Menuets are elegant and not too jumpy. The Giga suffers from the harpsichord-like evenness of dynamics. In the Second Partita Korevaar strangely shifts the accents in the ornamentation and around them in the Grave introduction to the opening movement. This sounds unusual and disturbing. In the ensuing Andante he is expressive, but his pace can be ponderous. The Courante is unhurried and full-voiced; one gets the feeling here that it evolved from gallant dances. The Sarabande is slow and thoughtful, sometimes slowing down even more to stress certain moments. The Rondeaux is fast and expressive; this speed does not always sound comfortable. The Capriccio is again a bit heavy, and again with microscopic braking in the densest places.
In the Fourth Partita, the Ouverture has organ-like sound, and the load seems to be even overall: same amplitude, same weight; it is wearisome. This is surely more the performer’s decision than that of the recording engineer. The Allemande is not easy to pull off. If one adheres too strictly to the tempo of the original dance, it strips the music of some of its musicality. Korevaar goes slow and aria-like, and spreads it over ten minutes. For comparison, Hewitt does it in 8:35, Feltsman does not linger more than 7:15. The separation of the near and the far planes of vision is not very clear, and depth is lost. Different themes and motifs are set out all on one level and so this movement sounds endless. The Third Partita is placed after the Fourth, which becomes a recording tradition, probably for CD timing reasons but also for the minor-major key rotation. The Fantasia is slow to the point of becoming almost unrecognizable. I understand that it can be played like that, and I admit that sometimes a scene in slow motion is an important trick in cinematography but I wouldn’t want to watch an entire movie in slow motion. The music is still beautiful - Bach put masses of beauty into it - but lacks drive; its effect is less powerful. In the Corrente the left hand sounds too massive, which leads to an impression of clutter. Korevaar’s approach works well in the more tempestuous parts like the Burlesca. It has untamed power, and the extra weight is welcome there, though I think it would be even better with less regular dynamics.
Tempo di Minuetto from the Fifth Partita is always problematic: the accents are shifted and the rhythm is strangely skewed. The pianist can help the listener to navigate through it by the sensitive application of accents. Korevaar does not do this and the movement becomes uncomfortable. His Toccata from the Sixth is grand, expressive and impressive but the Corrente is rushed to the point of losing stability. I guess it can work at such a fast tempo but then the touch should be lighter otherwise it is just not beautiful anymore. I liked the Sarabande: it is serious, spacious and creates the impression of a great cathedral. I got this impression in more than one of Korevaar’s movements, due to his solid and serious approach and to the organ-like sound of the piano.
The recording is clear but rather close. This could in some measure be responsible for the general uniform loudness of the recording. The booklet contains a short essay by the pianist about the history of the creation of the Partitas, the movements in the standard suite grouping and their relation to the corresponding dances.
Overall, David Korevaar’s performance is grand but lacks charm.
Grand but lacks the charm.
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