Reviews

GMCD 7258/59 – French Ouvertures & French Suites by Bach

Paul Parsons – Harpsichord

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American Record Guide – January/February 2004

Paul Parsons counts Lionel Rogg among his teachers. His Bach is thoughtful, conventionally expressive but not dull. His performance is not note-perfect, and the sound is sometimes a little harsh, but his clear-cut, no-nonsense musicality makes for a very refreshing listening experience. A few examples: the slow section of the French Overture’s first movement unfolds in a moderate tempo with straightforward phrasing; Parsons doesn’t overdot the rhythms, doesn’t try to inflect the music with a lot of pomposity. In the closing “echo” movement, I hear a certain emphasizing of the phrases that’s very effective; Parsons’s moderate tempo enhances the effect. He massages the tempo ever so slightly in the Sarabande from the first French Suite, making the movement sound tender but not too profound. His incisive and varied articulation in the gigue from the Fifth Suite accounts for the performance’s unusual interest. Parsons brings the program to an effective close with a fine reading of the A-minor Prelude and Fugue, though I still prefer Andreas Staier’s lightning-fast rendition for German Harmonia Mundi.
For the French Suites, the recent releases by David Cates on Musie & Arts (Nov/Dec 2003) and Bradley Brookshire on Purchase (Sept/Oct 2003) make a stronger and more unforgettable impression, but Parsons offers a fine middle-of-the-road alternative. I still hope Ralph Kirkpatrick’s old performance of the French Overture on DG Archiv will make it to CD; his sense of style and imaginative registration outclass all of his recorded competition.
HASKINS

MusicWeb Thursday July 24 03

It goes without saying that Johann Sebastian Bach is among the greatest composers who ever lived. It is simply hard to comprehend how a single individual could conceive of so much music in so many different combinations of instruments, not to mention the hundreds of works he wrote for church choirs. There was a time when he was obliged to produce a church cantata for each and every Sunday (198 in all!) – the mind truly boggles.
As the fairly extensive liner notes in this 2 disc set explain, we can sometimes lose sight of Bach’s humanity as a result of the sheer nature of his musical genius, and the great religious choral works and those for organ, as well as the Well Tempered Clavier, tend to imply that his great aim was to create works out of the range of ordinary men. However, as Derek Adlam points out “This overlooks the fact that stylised dance music formed a very large part of Bach’s output, and that these works allow us to understand better the true nature of his humanity and personality.” He goes on to say that suites of instrumental dance pieces were well established by the 1650s. The principal form was to provide a core of 4 pieces, each representative of a different national temperament: Allemande, German in style and serious in content, Courante, gracefully French, Sarabande, dignified and Spanish, and a lively Gigue, possibly based on an English dance. To this core could be added further parts such as Bourees, Minuets, Gavottes and Polonaises. Given Bach’s supreme understanding of counterpoint it is not surprising that he elevated these types of works to new heights in his 3 sets of 6 suites for keyboard.
This two disc set presents all six of his French Suites plus his French Overture, BWV 831, and one of his Preludes and Fugues. I was immediately struck by the beautifully clear sound Paul Parsons achieves from this instrument which is a recent copy by Adlam/Burnett of a 1638 harpsichord made by Ioannes Ruckers (and which was lent by Richard and Katrina Burnett from their collection at the Finchcocks Living Museum of Music – ) It is a joy to realise how these skills of period instrument making are alive and well and practised in many countries today. The instrument Paul Parsons plays is a wonderful example of these skills with a truly authentic sound. His refined playing of these brilliant works makes this a set that will please all lovers of the harpsichord. As far as I am concerned, however, 2 CDs worth of this is too much for my musical appetite to digest in one sitting and I prefer to treat it as less of a feast and more of a buffet, and simply graze.
Steve Arloff

New Classics 16.05.2003

On this outstanding double-CD album the virtuoso harpsichordist Paul Parsons plays works by Johann Sebastian Bach. These include his brilliant French Overture, French Suites (Nos. 1 to 6) and the wonderful Prelude & Fugue in A minor. The French Suites probably acquired their nickname from being much lighter in style than his other suites for keyboard instruments, and these are outstanding performances of some of the composer’s most delightful and rewarding works