Bach piano works are within my favorite music. Perahia has few peers in playing Bach (... and Chopin ) on the piano. Having said that a few additional comments can be enough to review the Perahia interpretation of English Suites Nos 1-6: personalised but coherent although never didactic, clean and refreshing..... crystalline; richness and harmony always present. Perhaia plays the sonatas beautifully indeed and, above all, he conveys the feeling that this is music to be enjoyed.
This and its companion disc, between them comprising all six of Bach's English Suites, are both brilliant. The music is fabulous and Murray Perahia's playing is quite wonderful. They have now been released as a single set: Bach: Complete English Suites.
These six suites are English in name only, conforming largely to the accepted form and order of a suite of dances, providing Bach with a template for his unrivalled contrapuntal skill in which he was utterly at home. The result is a set of pieces with wonderful rhythmic variation and delightful fluency of lines, and these are among Bach's finest keyboard works, in my view. They are inventive, endlessly rewarding and, above all, hugely enjoyable to listen to.
Murray Parahia understands all of this to his core, and has the superb technique to allow it to flow out of him utterly naturally. He often has a delightful lightness of touch which never trivialises but allows the music to dance and glow as it should, and he preserves the music's intellectual weight even in the most toe-tapping movements. Perahia's judgement of rubato and ornamentation is impeccable, with just enough to allow make the music's sense clear without overlaying it with unnecessary interpretive tricks. It is exemplary Bach playing, I think.
Unless you have a rooted objection to Bach on the piano (in which case I'd recommend Christophe Rousset's harpsichord recordings Bach: English Suites, BWV 806 - 811 /Rousset) you cannot possibly go wrong with these two discs. They are superb and very warmly recommended.
[At this level of excellence it is purely a matter of personal taste, but I thought I'd mention that I still marginally prefer Angela Hewitt's interpretations (now in a fantastic box of all her Bach recordings Angela Hewitt plays Bach (Complete Solo Keyboard Recordings).) This is a matter of tiny things, though, and I would be very happy with this set alone.]
When an artist plays music composed by Bach which has already been recorded by Glenn Gould, there will always be people to condemn it. I am a fan of Gould, but when I listen to his recordings, I sit down and concentrate. Afterwards, I feel satisfied but also drained.
Since I have started to listen to Perahia's version of the English Suites, a new world has opened to me: I sit down and enjoy, I drive the kids to school and enjoy, I cook, iron - and enjoy this music at the same time! It never bores and even though I have a trained ear, I can't detect any flaws. Perahia has emphasized the beauty within these six gems and if snobs tell you this is not the way to record the music: reply it is certainly the way to enjoy it! Thank you Mr. Perahia.
Perahia has made it his highest mission to play the music of Bach, as it seems. He always keeps returning to the composer, after having flirted with composers from the Romantic era. Yet I don’t know if he’s entirely right here. I wouldn’t deny for a moment that Perahia’s Bach shows great understanding of the music as well as a perfectly polished sound. But somehow it appears to me that these qualities are much better suited to the aforementioned Romantic composers. In Schubert, Chopin or Schumann Perahia has few equals. When playing Bach, he’s surely excellent, but he enters Glenn Gould’s territory here. Who seems, to me, nearly unbeatable. Gould’s style and personality were unique, and so are his Bach recordings. Gould can be revolutionary, shocking, intimidating. He can infuriate you with his playing, but even then he grabs your attention. While Perahia is, at least in Bach, rather pleasant and gentleman-like. These may very well be the most profound, fair recordings of the English Suites available, but it’s just not the real thing (a.k.a. Gould). If you like your Bach relaxed and melodical, then by all means get this. It won’t disappoint for a moment. But it could do so for those seeking adventure and new discoveries. As for myself, I strongly prefer Gould, but it’s simply undeniable that Perahia plays this music very well. To return to the main subject of this paragraph, however: there is so much more music that he plays well, without having an unbeatable rival. So he might focus on other terrain a little more. For what we have here, I have a lot of praise but also some remarks. I mentioned Perahia’s extremely polished sound already: his Bach always sounds like a box of delicious chocolates. His subtle, slightly romantic touch is greatly enjoyable, and so is his reading of the music: it’s neither too fast nor too slow: just all perfect. The dynamic accents are not exaggerated, but very correct. So is his treatment of each kind of piece: the Gigues are nervous dances, the Gavottes are exquisite little gems (especially that of the third suite), the Sarabandes broad songs and so on. I can’t really say he does anything ‘wrong’. Yet it is his being just too neat and correct that makes the disc a little less satisfying or even a little boring. Maybe he should have taken more risks, but now we’re moving into the direction of Gould again. This is Perahia, however, and it’s his style to keep everything in a ‘fine’ spirit, without ever being brusque. It’s fine to listen to, but on the other hand there’s some lively spirit missing. Perahia certainly does an admirable job on these discs: I can’t recall any real negative things, but it just misses the crisp freshness and joy of Gould. Nevertheless, I recommend this disc. This music can be interpreted in different ways and the two aforementioned pianists are a good combination of these different routes. With one clear favourite, however.