Bach: The Partitas

Richard Egarr harpsichord
154:59 (2 CDs in a wallet)
harmonia mundi USA HMM 907593.94

Richard Egarr plays the Partitas – Bach’s ‘Opus 1’ – on a 1991 harpsichord by Joel Katzman of Amsterdam after a Ruckers from Antwerp of 1638 which is tuned in his version of a 6th comma 18th-century temperament at a=399.

The instrument sounds rich and springy at this pitch, giving a bloom and mellow resonance to each note that Egarr can use to advantage to sustain the tone in the slower movements, while offering sufficient life and clarity in the faster passagework. I was never conscious of any artificiality in his chosen tempi, and the result of listening to all six partitas through at one stretch is of being mesmerised by the apparently effortless rightness of it all. So fluent, so sparkling, so dance-like, and yet so engaged, well-planned and serious a journey. Where did he get all this from?

Then I read his remarkable essay in the liner notes which describe what Egarr calls ‘the mind-boggling abilities of Bach to infuse this seemingly effortless music with godly patterns and personal algorithms of stunning brilliance.’ First he explores the numerology derived from the name, then moves to the mathematics of the Trinity and of Tempus Perfectum, paying careful attention to the cross shapes of the sharps in the key signatures in Partita 5 and then turns to Partita 6, where he finds Bach at the foot of the cross. ‘These cross figures contain predominantly intervals of the third and seventh. The three voices of this fugue, which takes us to the end of this world, enter in the first, third and seventh bars of each half. Is it a coincidence that Bach chose to delay publication until 1731?’

I can only give you a flavour of the theological and mathematical brilliance with which Egarr is convinced Bach’s music is infused, but I have never heard either such convincing arguments or such convincing playing. The more Bach I study, the more I am clear that it is not only the more obvious church music, performed in the service of the Lutheran rite, that reveals Bach’s comprehensive and coherent expression of his faith in all that he wrote.

This is a very good recording. Not only is the actual recording of a very high quality, but the performance could not be bettered either technically or cerebrally.

David Stancliffe