The California-born Paris-based Lillian Gordis’ Bach interpretations alternately fascinate and baffle, sometimes within the parameters of a single work. Take the D major Partita, for example. In the Ouverture, Gordis plays up the introduction’s pomp and grandeur, in sharp contrast with her vivacious main section. The Courante, Aria, and Gigue are characterful and direct, despite quirky agogic adjustments. However, the Allemande meanders with no direction in sight.
Gordis stretches out the B-flat Partita’s Praeludium and Allemande to rhapsodic extremes, yet plays the Corrente relatively straight. The Menuet flies by with a feeling of one beat to a bar, yet the measured Gigue’s melodic leaps between registers lack point and clarity. Gordis elongates the first notes of the G minor English Suite Prelude as if to warm up a motor and gives the Allemande plenty of expressive space. By contrast, the Gavotte is steady and heel-kicking. The individual movements of the E minor English Suite similarly run the gamut between spacey and rigorous.
What justifies Gordis’ extreme rubato in the Well-Tempered Clavier Book II D major Prelude and Fugue? I invite her to explain, because I’m fascinated, yet again, baffled. But the harpsichordist’s unconventional tempo modifications in the Book II B-flat minor Fugue effectively intensify the chromatic writing’s sense of tension and release. In short, Gordis’ Bach may not suit all tastes, yet curious listeners will be rewarded by Paraty’s stunning sonics: I’ve rarely heard a harpsichord recording with such presence and bloom, resonant warmth, soaring bass lines, and timbral richness.