The last to be written, these six suites for harpsichord were the first to be published in Bach's lifetime. Their French influence is evident from the titles prefixed to the movements and they must above all be redolent of a stately and elegant dance without sounding stiff or static.
Despite his facility in composers as wide-ranging as Beethoven, Chopin, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov, all available on Nimbus, Feltsman has primarily been a Bach specialist over his entire career. This 2 CD set is a re-issue under licence of discs originally on the Urtext Records label with the Two-part Inventions as a filler and then made available again on Camerata in 2007.
Feltsman's pacing overall is brisk, the total time of the Partitas being about 120 minutes. There is no sense of undue haste although just occasionally I felt that he rushes fences in his trills. He habitually maintains a steady pulse in the fast movements but uses plenty of rubato in the slow ones. Certainly there is no lingering neither is there any sense of hurry, either - just steady, sensitive phrasing whereby the Sarabandes are primarily lyrical in the mode of a baroque aria with sonorous, singing tone (with lots of pedal), soulful pauses and poignantly drawn out ornaments to convey a deep melancholy. It is those slow movements I enjoy most in his playing here.
The Preludes are grand and stately; the opening to No.2 is decidedly tragic without undue emotionalism. He displays astonishing facility in the Ouverture to the D major, never pounding but always maintaining a direct, forceful thrust in his playing. We do not hear the steady, stoical concentration of Gould or the gentler lyricism of Perahia but rather something more of the juste milieu between the two, sustaining a free, improvisatory mood. His interpretations are all of a piece in that they retain integrity by constantly reflecting and replicating throughout the characteristics I briefly adumbrate above; I find him more lively and brilliant than the rather stately and under-stated Angela Hewitt, or the delicate, urbane Richard Goode. So many great pianists have put their mark on these masterpieces and as usual the music proves itself the ultimate in plastic adaptability, accommodating each musician's personal style in a manner that enables the listener to appreciate afresh its intrinsic beauty.
This is why I could not begin to express an overall preference for Feltsman over any other of the many interpretations available but I can say that anyone buying his version is unlikely to be disappointed and also assert that Nimbus has once more give Feltsman beautiful, superbly balanced recorded sound, rich in sonority and finer than any of the others I sampled.
Ultimately the essential rightness, improvisatory freedom and rhythmic vitality of Feltsman's account win me over.
I wanted some bach this Christmas, but not a dog (ha-ha). A few years ago I missed the Bachfest on Radio 3 and have regretted it ever since. So, I turned to these Six Partitas. A great choice - I have decided. Feltsman's playing is so light and lyrical. He is there on the cover against a rugged piece of stone: no collar, white sweatshirt and jeans. His playing is like he looks. A rugged backbone but played with casual elegance. This CD is not at all scary and is a great introduction to Bach and I will have this one for years I am sure.
A couple of weeks ago I had the good fortune to hear Adrian Farmer, the piano-playing boss of Nimbus, give a talk on what, for him, makes a pianist great. One of those he cited as a perfect example of the species was Vladimir Feltsman, particularly when playing Bach. He used an example from a double CD he and Mr Feltsman had just completed. It is truly one for your collection. The clarity and discipline of the playing does not in any way make it clinical and the position of the piano for the recording is also perfect. Mr. Feltsman has also written the excellent sleeve notes.
Adrian Farmer, himself no mean practitioner of the pianistic arts, spoke with great respect of the business-like approach of this great Bach interpreter - "two takes of each piece and finished by half past three" was how he put it! When you remember how some recording sessions went on for days, it puts Mr. Feltsman into a very special category of player. The first and second Partitas, which open disc one, had me remembering the hours spent practicing for my Grade exams, back in the dark ages. I can't imagine how the poor examiners put up with my young romantic's interpretation of this music! Mr. Feltsman manages to inject humour and lightness into the discipline he brings to tempo and timbre. It's a master-class just listening to his use of the pedal! I urge you to buy this excellent recording for your own joy, or for any people in your family who aspire to playing the piano.
Vladimir Feltsman plays a modern piano recorded in Moscow in 1979 according to the supplied booklet. A pity it's make was not given as this piano is so marvellous in sound. The recording sounds just right! Now for his performance, Feltsman is a consumate artist, note perfect and a joy to listen to. Of course Martha Argerich (Hyperion)gives an altogether different approach, possibly with more warmth and feeling. Both are excellent. If your pocket would stand both interpretations then have both,otherwise give Feltsman your vote. In Bach's day it would have been played on a harpisichord, but in this age the piano is the instrument that many pianists prefer and one has many different recordings to choose from, but my preference is for Vladimir Feltsman. [[ASIN:B009W00CO8 J.S. Nimbus NI6207.