Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
French Suites for Solo Keyboard Nos 1-6 [85:46]
The English Suites for Solo Keyboard Nos 1-6 [80:47]
Alexander Borovsky (piano)
rec. 1952 (English) and 1953 (French), Vox Studios, New York City
PRISTINE AUDIO PAKM074 [3 CDs: 166:33]
Between 1952 and 1953 the Russian pianist Alexander Borovksy, then in his 60s, recorded the complete English and French suites for Vox. Except for the dogged acclaim of specialist collectors, these recordings have not been that well-known, nor have they been reissued on CD until now. In his brief note, Pristine’s Andrew Rose mentions that it was the persistent pushing of these recordings by critic Rob Cowan that encouraged this three-CD release;
a twofer and a single disc, under the same release number.
Borovsky’s purely pianistic performances, with their clarity of touch, naturalness of phrasing and very sparing use of the pedal offer a kind of horror show for the loquacious critic: there’s almost nothing left to say except to admire the selflessness of the musicianship, the concentrated buoyancy of the rhythm, the lack of extreme personalisation, either in voicings or in phrasing, and the sense of a musician performing a whole body of music in one, as it were. There’s nothing piecemeal or unconsidered here, neither is it intellectualised or in any way objectified. From the off, these are the kinds of performances to which one listens unencumbered by trivial objection – who cares if a few bars are rushed, or brief passagework is slightly smudged – given the healthy, humane music-making to be encountered time and time again throughout these readings.
There’s never a moment of metronomic playing – the Bourée of the A major English Suite is alertly phrased for example – whilst that of the A minor enjoys some witty moments. The Preludes are robust, concluding Gigues alive and communicative; and there is expressive density, but never a shred of self-indulgence in those Sarabandes (try the G minor Sarabande). The direct and unaffected performances are mirrored in the French Suites in which the concluding Gigues are just as life-enhancing as their English confreres and each movement bears its own character with unruffled honesty.
Repeats are very thin on the ground, to put it mildly, as one might expect of this time period and there are one or two rough edits on the original Vox LPs – there’s a particularly heart-stoppingly bad edit in the opening Prelude of the E minor English Suite, for example. But that’s as bad as it gets and it doesn’t get bad more than a couple of times. Borovsky recorded the G minor English Suite before the War for Polydor in Paris in 1935 when he was at something like the height of his popularity but post-war he was able to record more expansively, even if for smaller labels. Indeed in 1955 he was to record the Well-Tempered Clavier, a private recording I’ve yet to hear, but which is available from the society that bears his name. If it’s as good as these suites it should be very well worth hearing because the unproblematically transferred performances of the suites more than deserve their reclamation and I hope will lead to more investigation of Borovsky’s legacy.
No. 1 in D minor, BWV 812 [13:04]; No. 2 in C minor, BWV 813 [13:40]; No. 3 in B minor, BWV 814 [14:02]; No. 4 in E flat major, BWV 815 [13:15]; No. 5 in G major, BWV 816 [16:58]; No. 6 in E major, BWV 817 [14:47]
No. 1 in A major BWV 806 [12:49]: No. 2 in A minor BWV 807 [14:01]: No. 3 in G minor BWV 808 [12:03]: No. 4 in F major BWV 809 [12:40]: No. 5 in E minor BWV 810 [12:19]: No. 6 in D minor BWV 811 [16:55]