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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
English Suites BWV 806-811
Suite No. 1 in A Major [29:19]
Suite No. 2 in A minor [24:27]
Suite No. 3 in G minor [22:02]
Suite No. 4 in F Major [22:55]
Suite No. 5 in E minor [22:34]
Suite No. 6 in D minor [31:06]
Masaaki Suzuki (harpsichord)
rec. 2016, Kobe Shoin Women’s University Chapel, Japan
BIS BIS-2281 SACD [75:48 + 76:35]

Masaaki Suzuki has completed the survey of Bach’s cantatas. He continues his valuable survey of Bach’s compositions for the harpsichord with a performance of all six English Suites on this two-disc set. A classic recording for Teldec by Alan Curtis (0630-13582-2) now sounds old and fast in comparison.

There are a few things to note when one considers a performance of the English Suites. They certainly are not English, and they were probably not composed as a set. The A Major Suite has a definite French character. The booklet notes point to the music of Charles Dieupart as their “compositional reference”. Suites No. 2 to 6 seem stylistically to be a mixture of French and Italian. A more developed contrapuntal style points to their composition at a later date. The title possibly comes from Forkel’s 1802 biography of Bach, where they are described as “made for an Englishman of rank”.

I have always preferred the French Suites. I find them more graceful and elegant, and have more recordings, including that by Suzuki (BIS-CD-1113/1114). This performance makes me appreciate the English Suites more. How Suzuki articulates the music and pays attention to detail brings out the best in these works. The two central suites, G minor and F Major, have been my favourites; more so now due to the grace and poise that Suzuki brings to this music. This is especially true of the Courante, Sarabande and Gavottes of No. 3, along with the panache of the Prelude and the tenderness of the Allemande and gaiety of the Menuets of No. 4. There is a great deal to savour here. Suzuki gives the slower movements more time to develop and be appreciated. This is quite marvellous. He also does not neglect the faster movements, which he plays with a pleasing swagger. In the other four suites, I particularly enjoyed the Prelude of the D minor Suite, and the way Suzuki effortlessly shifts between tempos. A wonderful performance.

The recorded sound is excellent. The hybrid SACD comes through well even in stereo. I find it sonically far superior to the Teldec recording, and even to Suzuki’s 2003 recording of the French Suites. The booklet essay by Yo Tomita is very good, although the discussion is centred on the origin, editions and revisions of the suites. A little more on the music itself would have been nice. This is a most enjoyable and engaged recording. I have no qualms in recommending it.

Stuart Sillitoe

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