Bach (1685-1750) wrote his six keyboard suites, BWV 806-811, for harpsichord, which Richard Egarr plays on this splendid two-disc set from Harmonia Mundi. Egarr has been the conductor of the Academy of Ancient Music for most of the past decade, but he also continues making solo recordings like this one.
If you've heard any of Egarr's past work, whether conducting, playing solo, or in accompaniment, you know he favors lively rhythms and expressive phrasing. There is nothing genteel, sedate, or old fashioned about his Bach. The Suites bounce along with maximum zest, yet they never betray their essentially aristocratic origins. Egarr shows great imagination in his interpretations, which in the hands of a few other musicians I've heard can seem a lot alike.
Each suite begins with a substantial prelude (becoming longer and more complex as the suites go on), followed by six or seven dance movements--allemandes, courantes, gavottes, gigues, minuets, passepieds, and bourrees. While the melodies pour forth graciously from all the suites, it's the final three I favor most for their smoother, more-flowing lines. And it's No. 5 in E minor I like best of all for its noble heart and No. 6 in D minor for its sheer grandness and drama.
Most of all, though, it's Egarr's spirited presentations that make it all come alive. The performances and recording sparkle. However, be aware that a harpsichord is a fairly bright instrument compared to the mellowness of a modern piano. So, yes, the instrument can appear little zingy. Frankly, when played too loudly, the sound got on my nerves. But, then, that's just me; I've never cared overmuch for solo harpsichord playing, period. Heard at a normal, natural playback level for the instrument, though, Egarr's harpsichord sounds quite lifelike.
John J. Puccio