Ashkenazy’s Bach French Suites

Review by: Jed Distler

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Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 8

Although Vladimir Ashkenazy has long retreated from playing the piano in public, he still achieves a high level of performance under studio conditions. The pianist was 78 and 79 when he set down Bach’s French Suites, and his straightforward musicianship, textual clarity, and spot-on tempos make a memorable (if not necessarily revelatory) impression.

Occasional unevenness and smudging occur in fast runs and extended note-spinning passages, yet they don’t pull the focus from the big picture. If Ashkenazy shapes the music with a smaller degree of inflection and dynamics in comparison to Murray Perahia, his Gigues are less hard hitting, lighter, and more lilting.

The B minor Suite’s Menuets feature a pinpointed yet never exaggerated distinction between detached and sustained articulation in both hands, while Ashkenazy’s fleet and feathery presentation of the E-flat Suite’s Allemande almost tickles your ear. And if you want a lesson in how to shade a legato line like a singer, look no further than the E major Suite’s Menuet-Polonaise. Likewise, the C minor Menuet’s centered rhythm and conversational give and take between the hands can only come from a seasoned keyboard master.

The booklet notes admit to Ashkenazy’s reticence in regard to ornamentation, so don’t expect the bells and whistles you get from Perahia, Schiff, Hewitt, and Schepkin. Expect fluid, intimately scaled, and artifice-free Bach playing instead. All six suites, by the way, fit onto a single CD, with all repeats observed, totaling 83 minutes.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Perahia (DG); Hewitt (Hyperion)

  • Vladimir Ashkenazy (piano)

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