We've never been overly fond of Bach's six French Suites. For the most part, they've always struck us as Bach-lite, and while there's not a thing wrong with Bach in his lighter moods, it mostly ill suits our fundamentally dark and gloomy spirit. There is, however, one movement we return to often, and often find occupying our mind in the form of an earworm that refuses to be denied. It's the Sarabande from Suite No. 1, and for those familiar with the movement, its attraction for us will be no surprise in the light of what we've above written. Over the years, we've heard a number of readings of this Sarabande on both harpsichord and piano, all played by keyboardists whose musicianship is unquestionably first-rate. But to our ears only one of these seems to have captured the innate profundity of this deceptively simple movement. Perhaps needless to say for longtime readers of S&F, that reading is by Glenn Gould. Previously on S&F, we had this to say about Gould's Bach readings:
Now, here's Gould's reading. And note, please, that he omits the written repeat of the second limb of the binary. After listening closely to this reading, we trust we'll not have to explain to you why.▼
As we've written, a reading that "truly deserve[s] that overworked encomium, transcendent."
Over the past few months or so, we've found that our recorded music listening has consisted mostly of rehearings of Bach's keyboard works performed by various keyboardists ... and were struck by how all those readings save Gould's seem to share a single element in common: they all deal with the music at its impeccable and complex formal surface ... seemingly never daring to go, or even look, beneath. Gould alone dared that, and ... produced readings that truly deserve that overworked encomium, transcendent. After absorbing Gould's reading of a Bach keyboard work, all other readings of that work seem lacking in one way or another, or even just plain "wrong" no matter how stylistically note-perfect they may be.And so it is with this Sarabande. Here, for telling instance, is a reading by that most excellent pianist András Schiff. Note, please, that he takes the repeats of both limbs of the binary as written, and his reading of this lovely Sarabande is impeccable formally and stylistically albeit taken at a tempo that's, shall we say, somewhat too brisk for this dance form; a first-rate reading by any standard (the standards of doctrinaire HIPies perhaps excepted), and every inch a proper German Baroque sarabande.▼