Bach: English Suites

CD cover of Belder English Suites on Brilliant Classics

Pieter-Jan Belder
143:40 (2 CDs in a single jewel case)
Brilliant Classics 96060

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Pieter-Jan Belder is well known as a harpsichordist in Holland, and is a familiar face playing continuo in the All-of-Bach recording project. He also directs Musica Amphion, the group that plays in the Bach cantata programmes associated with the Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam, led by Harry van der Kamp. Belder has recorded keyboard music as diverse as the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, the Scarlatti sonatas, and all Rameau as well as the Well-tempered Clavier. The liner notes contain his admirable 14-page essay on the origin, structure and detailed commentary on the English Suites.

Belder plays a harpsichord made by Titus Crijnen in 2013, after a Blanchet of 1730. No information is given on pitch and temperament, but his website reveals that it plays at 440, 415 and 392 and it is certainly a well-developed instrument and sounds well in the Hervormde Kerk, Mijnsherenland where the recordings were made.

With concerted music more difficult to achieve in lockdown, little wonder that we have seen a great increase in the number of CDs of solo music though Belder seems to have recorded his English Suites for Brilliant Classics in 2018 and 2019.

He plays with great clarity, and his rhythms in the slightly swung Courante of Suite No. 4 in F for example show his musicianship and judgement at their best. But his playing is splendid overall, and the musicality of it all means I can listen to it happily without ever feeling he is trying to prove points all the time. With so many recordings of solo harpsichord music being released – one of the effects of the lockdowns is that solo keyboard music has been easier to produce even than chamber music, let alone anything using voices, which still seem to be regarded as potentially life-threatening – we are eavesdropping on many people’s private music-making. For those of us longing to resume our concerted music-making before we go pop this is just the kind of well-prepared unassertive playing that one can listen to again and again, which is one of the characteristics I look for in buying an actual CD.

A great bonus of this performance is the 14 pages (in English only) of detailed commentary on the Suites by Jon Baxendale.

This is an elegantly played, well-recorded and un-demonstrative performance that I am happy to live with and play regularly.

David Stancliffe