Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Bach - French Suites BWV 812-819 - Davitt Moroney









Bach - French Suites BWV 812-819 - Davitt Moroney, harpsichord
Soloist | Eac, flac, cue | log, cover | 2 CD, 957 MB
April 11, 2000 | Virgin Veritas | RapidShare



The French Suites (BWV 812–817) are a set of six keyboard suites Bach compiled in his late thirties, the most prolific period of his life producing a series of important instrumental works. Together with the Inventions and Sinfonias and the Well-Tempered Clavier, the French Suites formed an integral part of Bach’s comprehensive programmes for the education of his pupils. Keyboard suites – a popular genre consisting of about half a dozen stylized dances – had high educational value; one was expected to learn from them the essence of manners and good tastes.

Traditionally, the French Suites were considered as pair with the English Suites, the other unpublished collection of suites Bach wrote earlier. The ‘French’ are distinguished from the ‘English’ by both the lack of prelude and being smaller in scale. Stylistically, the ‘French’ are the more charming and elegant of the two: they tend to avoid the use of counterpoint, and focus more sharply on the exploration of such galant elements as cantabile melodies and sonorous, idiomatic keyboard texture. When discussing these characters, one cannot disassociate them from their origin: a sort of wedding gift to his young, musical wife – Anna Magdalena Bach (née Wilcke, 1701–60).




Anna Magdalena was just twenty when Bach married her on 3 December 1721; it was his second marriage, having lost his first wife, Maria Barbara, from sudden illness 17 months earlier. One can only imagine what an uplifting change this marriage brought to Bach and his children.

She was a professional singer; her keyboard skills were predictably no equal to her singing abilities. That Bach sent her so soon after their wedding a Clavierbüchlein with the first five of the French Suites seems to attest to their loving relationship. How did she feel when receiving such a gift? Esther Meynell, the author of The Little Chronicle of Magdalena Bach – a romantic fiction published anonymously in London in 1925 – depicts this scene with remarkable clarity: “Very soon after our marriage he gave me a music-book he had made for me. … When I turned the pages with eager fingers, while he stood and watched me with a smile so good and kind, I found that he had written for me in this book many easy pieces for my playing on the clavier – on which instrument he had begun giving me lessons. I was not yet very advanced, though I could play a little before I was married, and he had written these little melodious compositions to please me, to encourage me, to suit the stage of skill at which I had arrived and lead me gently on towards a higher one. Amongst these pieces was a grave and beautiful sarabande – I always thought his sarabandes in the clavier Suites and Partitas were peculiarly lovely and expressive of his mind – and the gayest little minuet, and all were of a charm to tempt any student to the keyboard. Thus he was ever ready to stoop from his own height and take by the hand a child or a beginner. Nothing ever made him impatient with a pupil save indifference or carelessness.”

Except those movements that are found their way into Anna’s Clavierbüchlein, no other copies of the French Suites in Bach’s hand survive. How Bach called this collection is still open to debate. In all likelihood, to the lost autograph is given a plain title ‘Six Suites for Harpsichord’, if one can trust the wording – ‘Sex Sviten pur le Clavesin’ in somewhat misspelt French – found in a copy of Bach’s pupil (probably Johann Schneider, 1702–88). It is striking that no further distinction was given when there was another set of keyboard suites, the English Suites, in Bach’s household. Bach’s obituary (1754), for example, merely describes them ‘Six suites for the same [i.e. clavier]’ (English) and ‘Six more of the same, somewhat shorter’ (French). How did Bach distinguish between them? It was in one of Marpurg’s treatises in 1762, as far as we can trace, that we learn the first reference to this work as ‘Six French Suites’. Considering his close relationship with Bach family circles, this information seems credible; it was perhaps how the work was generally called. Forkel endorses this view in his biography of Bach (1802), explaining that they are ‘written in the French taste’.

Davitt Moroney is one of today's top specialists in older keyboard instruments, one who has delved deeply into the music and aesthetics of French and English harpsichord music. He has perhaps the most scholarly orientation among leading early music performers, but his performances are accessible to any listener. Born in Britain of Irish-Italian ancestry, he studied in England, France, and the United States, coming to early music through scholarly study. His Ph.D., granted at the University of California in 1980, dealt with the choral music of Tallis and Byrd. Through the 1970s, however, he studied organ (with the Austrian player Susi Jeans) and harpsichord (with the Canadian Kenneth Gilbert, and after finishing his degree he embarked on a career as a recitalist, with Paris as his home base.

Moroney has released over 50 compact discs of keyboard music of the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries, as a soloist, chamber player, and participant in concertos, winning several Gramophone Awards and France's Grand Prix du Disque de l'Académie Charles Cros. His most ambitions project, which took 15 years of planning, research, and rehearsal, is a complete survey of the keyboard music of the great Elizabethan-era English composer William Byrd. A seven-disc set (for the price of five), on the Hyperion label, it was the first album of its kind. Meticulously researched, it includes a 45,000-word program book written by Moroney himself. The recording uses the most appropriate instruments available, including two different harpsichords, clavichord, chamber organ, the Ahrend organ of the Church-Museum des Augustins, Toulouse, and a muselar virginal especially built for the recording. Many of the recordings were made in the actual locations where Byrd himself had played his music, including Lincoln Cathedral, Ingatestone Hall in Essex, and L'Abbaye Royale de Fontevraid, France.

Despite all the research and intellectual effort involved, and the strict authenticity for which he strives, Moroney's performances are vivid and expressive, delighting contemporary audiences. One way he is known for putting his insights across to audiences is to address them directly. In the year 2000, Moroney's biography Bach: An Extraordinary Life appeared, and his critical edition of Bach's Art of the Fugue (one of over a dozen he has edited) included a new completion of that work's massive unfinished closing fugue. Since 2001 he has been professor of music and university organist at the University of California, Berkeley..


On this CD:

Suite for keyboard in A minor, BWV 818a
Composed by Johann Sebastian Bach
with Davitt Moroney

Suite for keyboard in E flat major, BWV 819a
Composed by Johann Sebastian Bach
with Davitt Moroney

French Suite, for keyboard No. 1 in D minor, BWV 812 (BC L19)
Composed by Johann Sebastian Bach
with Davitt Moroney

French Suite, for keyboard No. 2 in C minor, BWV 813 (BC L20)
Composed by Johann Sebastian Bach
with Davitt Moroney

French Suite, for keyboard No. 3 in B minor, BWV 814 (BC L21)
Composed by Johann Sebastian Bach
with Davitt Moroney

French Suite, for keyboard No. 4 in E flat major, BWV 815 (BC L22)
Composed by Johann Sebastian Bach
with Davitt Moroney

French Suite, for keyboard No. 5 in G major, BWV 816 (BC L23)
Composed by Johann Sebastian Bach
with Davitt Moroney

French Suite, for keyboard No. 6 in E major, BWV 817 (BC L24)
Composed by Johann Sebastian Bach
with Davitt Moroney


I guess there's no accounting for taste, but I am dumbfounded by the complaints of some Amazon reviewers that Davitt Moroney has somehow failed to "interpret" Bach's French Suites. If you're looking for grand, theatrical gestures, or expect him to sing along like Glenn Gould or to lurch and stagger through the music with arbitrary tempo changes and "dramatic" pauses, then you might be disappointed. What Moroney provides are performances of taste, nuance and unfailing musicianship. Far from being mechanical or metronomic, his playing is consistently supple, with subtle rhythmic inflections that allow the music to breathe, and totally free of the self-indulgent mannerisms some performers use to draw attention to themselves rather than the music. It's worth noting that in addition to the six canonical French Suites, he includes two additional suites (BWV 818a and 819a). The instrument he performs on has a beautiful tone; my one complaint is that the notes do not identify it (another reviewer says it is a copy of a French instrument, which is not an unreasonable choice. There is no reason to assume that because Bach was German, he only played German harpsichords. Handel, for example, was a German who moved to England and owned a Flemish harpsichord. And regardless of the instrument Bach owned, his published music was intended to be played on whatever instrument the buyer owned, so let's not pick nits). The recorded acoustic is lively without being overly reverberant (something that seriously mars some of Gustav Leonhardt's recordings). This is intelligent and tasteful music-making, historically informed without sounding academic, lively without sounding rushed. If you're looking for something else, maybe Bach's music is not for you. --Amazon

1 comment:

  1. I couldn't afford this when it came out, and now it's out of print. Thanks for the chance to hear it!

    ReplyDelete

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