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English Suites BWV 806-811
General Discussions

Bach English Suite No. 2

Jeffrey P. De Vault wrote (April 18, 2001):
I was wondering if anyone could tell me where I could get an analysis (off the internet) of the Sarabande movement of the second English Suite of Bach in a minor. Thank you.

Anthony Ranieri wrote (April 19, 2001):
[To Jeffrey P. DeVault] Are you looking for just a harmonic analysis or something more complex?

 

English Suites

Barry Murray wrote (June 25, 2003):
I have just joined your group and have enjoyed the discussions so far.

I have a question. I have recordings of quite a number of Bach's keyboard works - usually played on the harpsichord by Davitt Moroney.

Can anyone recommend a recording of the English Suites? I am mainly looking for a harpsichord version, but would be interested in any recording which members might recommend.

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 25, 2002):
[To Barry Murray] Parmentier on Wildboar 9302. Desert island.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (June 25, 2001):
[To Bradley Lehman] Why am I not surprised that Brad would say that....?

Jim Morrison wrote (June 25, 2001):
[To Barry Murray] Good topic. I don't recall the English Suites having been discussed in a while and just yesterday I decided that I was going to have more familiarize myself with the recordings of it that I have. As far as harpsichord recordings go, I enjoy Gilbert, Christiane Jaccottet, Leonhardt, and van Asperen, and Parmentier. I don't have the Moroney you mentioned or the Watchorn that some one else brought up. Maybe you could tell us what it is that you're looking for in a harpsichord recording so that we could fine tune our recommendations?

Jim (who, if he could have just one harpsichord version of the English Suites, would hold onto his Parmentier)

PS: I only recently got my hands on the Gilbert English Suites via the Berkshires Record Outlet. It was part of a six disc set that also included the French Suites and the Partitas. Price was around 25 dollars. Website at: http://broinc.com/

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 25, 2001):
[To Jim Morrison] I'd mentioned the Parmentier yesterday as first choice. My backup choices would be some of the same ones you mention here, Jim. Christiane Jaccottet's and the classic Alan Curtis set on Teldec (probably unavailable, a pity), and the recent van Asperen on Brilliant Classics.

Leonhardt on EMI Reflexe/Virgin is reliable, too, but seriously marred by a lack of repeats. Half the music is missing! (I suspect this was to fit all six suites onto two LP's, which barely works.) That was 1984, a long time ago, and the SEON/Sony set was earlier...seems it's about time for Leonhardt to have a third go at these! [He might have done some or all for Telefunken before that, too, I don't remember.]

But with three of his best former students (Parmentier, van Asperen, and Curtis) doing so outstandingly well in these pieces, maybe a new Leonhardt set isn't necessary.

Johan van Veen wrote (June 25, 2001):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< I'd mentioned the Parmentier yesterday as first choice. My backup choices would be some of the same ones you mention here, Jim. Christiane Jaccottet's and the classic Alan Curtis set on Teldec (probably unavailable, a pity), and the recent van Asperen on Brilliant Classics.
Leonhardt on EMI Reflexe/Virgin is reliable, too, but seriously marred by a lack of repeats. Half the music is missing! (I suspect this was to fit all six suites onto two LP's, which barely works.) That was 1984, a long time ago, and the SEON/Sony set was earlier...seems it's about time for Leonhardt to have a third go at these! [He might have done some or all for Telefunken before that, too, I don't remember.] >
The SEON recording is the only one by Leonhardt. I don't think he will record the English Suites again. As far as I know he doesn't make any harpsichord recordings anymore.

Donald Satz wrote (June 25, 2001):
Bradley Lehman writes:
<
Leonhardt on EMI Reflexe/Virgin is reliable, too, but seriously marred by a lack of repeats. Half the music is missing! (I suspect this was to fit all six suites onto two LP's which barely works. >
Perhaps it was because of the existing technology, but Leonhardt routinely bypasses repeats in his Bach recordings. It's something I expect from him and most others who recorded in previous eras.

I find that there's a wide range of views concerning observation of repeats. Some listeners won't even consider purchasing a recording that does not include all repeats; they think that there's an ethical issue involved. Personally, sometimes I could care less about observing repeats; other times, I feel cheated without them. I suppose it's a matter for me of how much I like the particular subject and whether I feel that the subject has more to say than can be covered the first time.

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 26, 2001):
I wrote:
<<
Leonhardt on EMI Reflexe/Virgin is reliable, too, but seriously marred by a lack of repeats. Half the music is missing! (I suspect this was to fit all six suites onto two LP's, which barely works.) That was 1984, a long time ago, and the SEON/Sony set was earlier...seems it's about time for Leonhardt to have a third go at these! [He might have done some or all for Telefunken before that, too, I don't remember.] >>
Johan van Veen added:
< The SEON recording is the only one by
Leonhardt. >
I have the EMI Reflexe two-LP set right here in my hand: Angel DSB-3962, published 1985. It says it was recorded May 2-3 and September 3-4, 1984, produced by Gerd Berg. On CD it's allegedly Virgin Classics #61157, still listed as currently available at German Amazon. I've never bothered to upgrade from the LP's.

The SEON set is produced by Wolf Erichson, and GL plays repeats on that one....

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 26, 2001):
Donald Satz wrote:
< Perhaps it was because of the existing technology, but
Leonhardt routinely bypasses repeats in his Bach recordings. It's something I expect from him and most others who recorded in previous eras. ? >
Leonhardt's first recording of the Partitas, recorded before 1971, is a three-LP set on dhm 99840-99842. One partita per side. He takes repeats.

His remake in 1986 for EMI (Gerd Berg, 1986) was crammed into a two-LP set and he omits repeats, just as on the EMI English suites which are also a two-LP set. Those two have been reissued as very short two-CD sets on Virgin.

This is of course circumstantial evidence, but isn't it possible that a marketing decision about the number of discs led directly to the omission of the repeats? It happens in people's recordingsof the Goldbergs (BWV 988) all the time...leave out just enough repeats so the performance will fit onto one disc. (Gould 1981, for example, for LP.)

There have also been releases where the original two-LP set had everything, while some repeats have been removed for a CD reissue as a single disc: for example, Tureck's Goldbergs (BWV 988) recorded at William F Buckley's house.

All three of Leonhardt's Goldberg (BWV 988) recordings were single LP's...no repeats. I'm inclined to believe there's a cause and effect here: fit it onto the assigned number of discs or it doesn't get published.

Johan van Veen wrote (June 27, 2001):
[To Bradley Lehman] Yes, your are right: I forgot that one :(.

As far as the repeats are concerned, I have never heard or read his view on that issue, but I would guess that he believes that it is up to the performer to make a choice which repeats to play and which to ignore. But that's just a wild guess.

Barry Murray wrote (July 4, 2001):
I would like to thank all members who replied to my post.

In reply to my request for recommendations of a harpsichord version of the English Suites, Jim Morrison asked:
"Maybe you could tell us what it is that you're looking for in a harpsichord recording so that we could fine tune our recommendations?
I really didn't have anything in particular in mind. I am fairly new to collecting baroque and classical music. I can't really give you a technical reason for it, but, to my untrained ear, Bach played on harpsichord sounds better to me than the same music played on piano. I should add though, that I recently heard a Bach performance played by Angela Hewitt - I was very impressed. I have not yet heard any of the English Suites played on harpsichord.

So, I was interested to see what list members thought of some of the available recordings.

Thanks again for all the recommendations.

I noticed the Gilbert 6 CD set to which Jim referred at Berkshires. I think this is a wonderful outlet if you happen to live in the US. Their shipping and handling charges are very steep for foreign orders. I also found their customer service to be somewhat lacking. Perhaps some day someone will set up a bargain store like that in Australia grin

Kirk McElhearn wrote (July 4, 2001):
Barry Murray wrote:
< I can't really give you a technical reason for it, but, to my untrained ear, Bach played on harpsichord sounds better to me than the same music played on piano. >
Perhaps one of the reasons is purely a question of sound - Bach wrote for an instrument whose notes decay much quicker than the piano, and it takes a real mastery of the piano to make the music sound right. Even when holding the notes for a short length of time, the resonance of the piano keeps them sounding longer.

Jim Morrison wrote (July 4, 2001):
Brain wrote in about having had some difficulties with the Berkshires record outlet store. well, I have to agree. Customer service, when I got on the phone with them at least, seemed to amount to talking with some guy who I was distracting from his real job. I even had to pay for the call. And shipping can take up to a month!

But they do have many hard to find items, some at great prices. They, for example, have a nice collection of Bob van Asperen CDs that I haven't seen elsewhere, and they're the only outlet that I know of (there may be others) for the Brilliant Classics Bach edition that sells for about two dollars per CD with many of those discs, from my experience and from others, being very good.

By the way, the Gilbert six CD set contains, if I'm not mistaken, the English Suites and Partitas being played on that Couchet/Blanchet/Taskins that Brad mentioned Gilbert used for his recording of an early version of the Art of Fugue (BWV 1080). Gilbert's WTC is also played on this instrument, which is, in my opinion, very fine. If only the Wildboar boys could get ahold of that instrument for a recording. I'd love to hear how Parmentier could make that harpsichord sing and dance.

Brad, know anything else about that harpsichord? What makes it such an exceptional instrument?

Kirk McElhearn wrote (July 4, 2001):
[To Jim Morrison] I don't know, but I agree, it is one of the best-sounding harpsichords I have ever heard. I'm sure Brad will be able to tell us...

 

Tower Records - Bach English Suite no 1, Toccatas - Christine Jaccottet

Jim Morrison wrote (August 29, 2001):
[To Marshall] Here's a curious fact about the Pilz Jaccottet recording that I have. Almost all seven tracks are mislabeled. And once again, there are no liner notes, as in the Point Classics series. If I remember correctly, they even label her WTC as the Well-Tempered Piano.

Thanks for sending those track times. My disc is consistently two-to-three seconds longer per track, which I'm sure is just some kind of programming/disc/computer thing.

I tell you another Jaccottet recording I'm fond of is her Italian Concerto.

And by the way, the last couple of days I've been sampling all these Toccata recordings that I have, and of the five complete harpsichord sets that I have Parmentier is on a plain by himself. (but then again, I'm sure a Parmentier fan, I'm liable to get excited about this recording simply because it sounds like Parmentier. :-)

Coming after him are van Asperen on Teldec (I haven't heard the EMI recording) and Jaccottet.

And after those three are Watchorn on Hänssler and Menno van Delft on Brilliant Classics (who also happens to play a Mietke copy. I prefer the sound of van Asperen's original Mietke, but by far favor Parmentier's Germain of all five CDs. To risk repeated some old posts, I'd like to say again that the sheer recorded sound of those Wildboar harpsichord CDs is phenomenal, and the same can be said of Parmentier's playing. That his recordings aren't more well known is absurd. His performances are some of the most multi-dimensional harpsichord music that I've ever heard. He makes the kind of music that just gets better and better with each listening experience. If you've never heard him, but are thinking of buying, don't hesitate any longer. If you think Hantaï, Leonhardt, van Asperen, and Jaccottet are something special, I'm pretty sure you'll enjoy Parmentier as well.)

Laurent Planchon wrote (August 29, 2001):
Jim Morrison wrote about the toccatas played by Parmentier:\
< To risk repeated some old posts, I'd like to say again that the sheer recorded sound of those Wildboar harpsichord CDs is phenomenal, and the same can be said of Parmentier's playing. That his recordings aren't more well known is absurd. His performances are some of the most multi-dimensional harpsichord music that I've ever heard. He makes the kind of music that just gets better and better with each listening experience. If you've never heard him, but are thinking of , don't hesitate any longer. >
Seconded here. Especially the recording of the toccatas which is probably one of the best harpsichord recording I know of. The competition is a bit tougher for the partitas, and I am not convinced by all the choices he makes there, but the toccatas are in a class by themselves. As you pointed out the recorded sound is amazing, and the Germain is gorgeous (curiously enough I was less convinced by it in the other Wildboar recordings I heard like Haas' d'Anglebert and Forqueray. I guess it is a perfect match with Bach, while the others require more something like a Hemsch for the latter and a Tibaut or Ruckers for the former). And then you have Parmentier's imagination and talent (listen to the fugue in BWV 911 and the way he phrases it for instance. It is a gem and I can't stop listening to it).

 

Gould's A Minor English Suite

Jim Morrison wrote (March 28, 2002):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< And incidentally, this was the last of Gould's Bach recordings (and the only one of the English Suites) to be done before the fatal wounding of Gould's favorite piano, Steinway CD 318. He recorded this suite in May 1971 and the piano was dropped from a truck in September. The May sessions also included some of the French Suites 5&6, the Grieg/Bizet album, and one Schoenberg song; he also got in some of the Beethoven sonata Op 31 #1 in August before the accident.
I'm of the opinion that this accident was one of the most severe influences in the downturn of
Gould's Bach; after this point he lost the pure joy and substituted cerebral analysis and other ideas...he turned into a different Glenn Gould in the way he approached the music. (Jim, want to say more about the 1975 death of his mother also? I'm thinking the piano death was the "one" and his mother's death was the "two" of this "one-two punch.") There are undoubtedly many who don't hear this 9/71 tragedy in Gould's career as negatively as I do, and undoubtedly some who prefer that later Gould. To each his own Gould! >
yeah, this English suite I think is one of Gould's high-water marks and worth the price of the set. It's been some of my favorite Gould since the first day I heard it. If you are a Gould fan, and more particularly, if you are knocked out by his 2nd recording of the Italian Concerto from the late 50's, (not necessarily by the first recording on CBC or the later early 80s recording recently released for the first time)then I think you'll find this English Suite is something special.

Like Brad I don't respond as positively do much of his later Bach as I do to the earlier recordings, and I also think the damage to his piano affected his playing. Heck, he admits so in an interview with Cott, saying he was fighting against the repair work that had been done to the piano and that his playing was more deliberate because of that.

Incidentally, around this same time Gould actually buys CD318. I'm not sure that's widely known. That Steinway kept this piano for Gould up until the early 70s when they started making star performers buy some of the pianos they used. I'm not sure if that's why Gould bought the piano, or because Steinway was going to trash the piano instead of doing all the repair work on it that Gould wanted. Anybody out there know?

I think performers are pretty much human beings and that the work/art they do is affected by their personal lives. (We've been through this before, haven't we?) And while I can't quantify the effect that the death of Gould's mother had on him, I do think the death of the person who he seemed to have the most contact with would do something to him. He also had health (mental?) problems during the 70s. He didn't record anything for almost two years! Am I the only one shocked by this? It's an amazingly long silence from Gould.

Eatons Auditorium, his favorite place to record, also underwent extensive modification. Or was it demolished? I forget. The liner notes to the Toccatas disc will probably say. That was one reason, I think, he started to record in New York City again. The death of CD318 also, I think, was part of the reason he moved from a Steinway to a Yamaha. I don't think he would have done that if CD318 was still in the shape he wanted it to be in. Anyone out there think that move was an improvement? I don't. Kind of a rare switch as far as I can tell.

During the 70's Gould also had a break with one of his long term producers, Kadzin, which inspired him to write a kind of tell-all book about his life with Gould.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that during this time Gould lost of lot of what was important to him, and that all those losses have something to do with the change in his piano playing. I'm getting a little softer on the causal connection side of the argument,seeing how hard it is to prove, but I'm still firmly in the camp that the personal and artist changes are related/connected. Some people, like me and Brad, think that something(s?) negative did happen to Gould's once stellar artistic skills and instincts during the 70s. (It's indisputable that he did have problems related to actually playing the piano at this time.) Other see this change in interpretation/sound as an improvement. Some, perhaps the happiest of the lot, see it as a simple natural change and don't try to evaluate/judge the change as being for the better or the worse. Simply a change and that's that. More types of Gould for them to enjoy!

Me, I really wish that in the mid-60s, after he stopped giving concerts, that instead of delving so deeply into Schoenberg, and then tackling all the Beethoven he did and even later the Mozart, that he would have dedicated himself to the French and English Suites. I also wonder of working so much on the radio and television shows might not have had some influence on his playing. A person only has so much energy to use. And then there's turning his home into a mini recording studio in the 70s to consider as well. And his no longer making concerto recordings, though he did continue to do chamber work. A lot in Gould's life altered in the 70s.

 

English Suites on piano

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 11, 2002):
moleskincrusher wrote:
< Is anyone on the List enthusiastic about any piano versions of the English Suites? I haven't heard any fully satisfying ones (especially disappointing is the Schiff, which unfortunately I bought sound unheard), but my listening is not extensive. I have my favorite harpsichord ones: Tilney and Kirkpatrick. Haven't heard the Parmentier. >
English Suites on piano: I like Wolfgang Rübsam's set on Naxos (recorded 1995), although I think he sometimes goes too far with the agogic accents in his attempt to make didactic points. His earlier set (Bayer 100007/8, recorded 1985) is also worth hearing, and simpler in that regard...an easier flow, with the trade-off of being less interesting. It's a good moderate choice.

His set of French suites was also on both those labels, but in that case it was the samone: he re-licensed the Bayer recording to Naxos.

 

Perahia's English Suites

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 11, 2002):
Alpha Walker wrote:
< Richter is very interesting and Perahia is gorgeous - very lyrical! >
My (mostly favorable) review of Perahia's: Amazon.com

(4 stars out of 5)
"Finely polished beautiful sound, but ultimately a bit dull..."
February 10, 2001

The most obvious thing about these performances is well-polished tone production. Perahia has great fluency and flow, too, making the music sound nearly effortless. His playing is far above mere competence, and sometimes gets into realms of serenity. That is all very good. My main disagreements are with interpretive points.

I yearned for more Frenchness, more grace and whimsy tempering the Italianate drive. Perahia's fast tempos sometimes seem headlong and don't breathe. Throughout most of these three suites there could be a lot more rhythmic and dynamic freedom within small groups of notes. More singing, more dance, more spontaneity. Less machine-like perfection!

Perahia's treatment of Bach's signed ornamentation is another problem. Every occasion sounds the same as the next one: same speed within the ornament, same number of notes, same even touch. Instead of making the lines sound vocal and free and beautiful, the ornamentation here doesn't seem to add any character. It's as if he knows how to deliver all the notes from the page very nicely, but doesn't quite get the gestural purpose behind the phrases and melodic shapes. It's as if each signed ornament calls the same subroutine to be run in his brain and fingers: output the "correct" notes disregarding context. It's pretty but it's not music.

There's a finger slip (or bad edit?) in bar 23 of the first suite's Allemande: at 3'26" of track 2. It's not horrible, but the blemish stands out so much because everything else is so well polished. If instead the performances as a whole had more grace and more grit, a more human casualness, a more speechlike delivery, technical irregularities like this wouldn't draw attention to themselves.

Left hand articulation is yet another problem. In too many movements the left hand simply bops along with an absolutely regular detachment, oblivious to that line's own melodic motion or the harmonic functions of its notes. (Cellists playing Baroque music in ensemble works often illustrate this same motoric problem...turn off the brain, bow everything exactly the same. Can't a bass line be musical, too?) Perahia's right hand isn't immune to this staccato tendency, either: he too often ignores Bach's carefully marked slurs of two or four notes (especially in the A-major suite), replacing them with a pokey evenness. Where's the grace?

Continuing to pick nits, I think Perahia's tempo scheme in suite 6's Prelude is misguided: the second section is certainly lively, but shouldn't the first section be more nearly the same in character? (Bach's "allegro" marking at that point doesn't mean "suddenly take off like horses out of a gate" -- it merely means "resume stricter tempo after relaxing in the previous bar's cadence".) That's yet another symptom of blithe literalism in reading the notation...the same way Richter and MANY other pianists interpret Bach. Literal rhythms, literal articulations, literal tempo choices, all based on 19th century ideals rather than on 17th or 18th century notions of /rhetoric and expression.

Performances of this type ultimately make Bach sound academic: get all the notes, rhythms, and speeds more or less correct, and hope that that's good enough. Unfortunately it's not. Sure, one can strive for a lovely spirituality as Perahia does, but it means a lot more if there's also an engaging earthiness to it. The spirit and mind are more easily nudged when the body is also engaged. Even the most placid lake has ripples in it, and the ripples make the lake seem alive.

Perahia's performances don't sound inhuman (like Pogorelich's), but they could still breathe a lot more naturally. In both the big picture and from phrase to phrase, they're just a bit too generic. The performances don't sound like living things existing in time. Rather, they sound like stylized intellectual constructions, sterile geometric objects. How about more particular reactions to the moments, and more sense of fun? How about some emotion?

After all those complaints I still give this disc four stars instead of three. One could do a LOT worse in Bach-on-the-piano. (If the instrument has to be a piano, which is inherently less interesting tonally than a good harpsichord in this repertoire, it might as well be played this beautifully.)

Perahia lets Bach speak on his own, straightforwardly, at least as far as he understands the notation (and he obviously understands the compositional syntax better than Richter or Pogorelich or Gould did!). Other than his hot-staccato touch that he uses as an occasional tone color (as many other pianists also apply to Bach), he doesn't do anything infuriatingly odd. Perahia does well in the middle of the road. It's a pleasant way to play Bach, if not the most immediately engaging. And these performances wear well on repeated listening.

Alpha H. Wright wrote (November 11, 2002):
Alpha Walker wrote:
<< Richter is very interesting and Perahia is gorgeous - very lyrical! >>
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< My (mostly favorable) review of Perahia's: Amazon.com

(4 stars out of 5)
"Finely polished beautiful sound, but ultimately a bit dull..."
February 10, 2001 >
Dull, yes, I tend to agree. I couldn't listen all the way through at first, but it is a beautiful sound!

 

Angela Hewitt's English Suites

Peter Bright wrote (September 2, 2003):
Just picked up Angela Hewitt's English Suites, hot off the press. Has anyone else had a chance to give these a listen yet? Have to say, I'm pretty excited by the prospect and look forward to comparing them with Perahia's recent(ish) piano version....

More soon...

By the way, the English Suites were recorded in August 2002

 

English suites

Jeremy Thomas wrote (January 3, 2004):
In the hope that here, as on other lists, there are no dumb questions...

BBC Radio 3 is this morning reviewing available recordings of the English suites. Why are they called English?

Thanks.

Peter wrote (January 3, 2004):
[To Jeremy] In the notes to the Leonhardt recordings of the 'English' suites, <quote> "it is not entirely known how the 6 superb harpsichord pieces..came to be called 'English Suites'. J.S. Bach himself merely described them as 'Suites with prelude'. His first biographer Johann Forkel said 'they are known as the English Suites because the composer wrote them for an Englishman of rank' but no such British nobleman has ever been identified" <unquote>.

Christoph Wolff's contribution to the New Grove sheds no light at all on the question. Perhaps someone in the group can help?

Peter Bright wrote (January 7, 2004):
On CD review (Saturday 3rd Jan, BBC r3), recordings of the English Suites were reviewed. On piano, first choice went to Angela Hewitt's recent set (probably my favourite too, although Perahia comes close). On harpsichord, first choice went to Gustav Leonhardt from 1973. There was also a mid-price choice of Robert Levin on piano from 1998/99.

If interested you can listen to the programme (the review starts after 30 minutes of Brahms, Ferrabosco (the younger), Gibbons and Warlock - which you can skip past if you prefer):
http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/playlists/cdreviewn.shtml

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 8, 2004):
Leila Batarseh wrote to Peter Bright:
< Was it my imagination, or did they spend a lot more time on piano versions than harpsichord versions? I was hoping to hear more of the Tilney and Rannou than they played - I really got no impression of the Tilney at all, but what they played of the Rannou actually sounded better to me than the sound samples I've listened to (although the reviewer didn't seem very impressed) so now I'm not sure what to think - and I was disappointed that they didn't include Parmentier's version (which as far as I can tell is still pretty widely available), since I've been thinking about getting it but it's kind of pricey. >
http://www.musicaloffering.com/wildboar/six_english_suites.html
Grab it. Just rationalize this by skipping a couple of pizzas.

Another one not to miss is Alan Curtis' recording.

< And another thing. Why are there so few recordings of the English Suites? Anybody have any theories? >
For one thing, it takes a harpsichordist who is very good at both the Italianate type of music (the preludes, so concerto-like in their form and content) and the French (the rest of the suite, the dance movements, with the necessary grace and rhythmic subtlety).

Pianists tend to make less attempt at that, the differentiation of the Italianate/French styles...or the clarity of any blended third "German" style. French style, especially, requires so much knowledge of issues outside the score that (as far as I've heard) pianists simply do not deal with that side very much.

(N.B. "English" style here is irrelevant, based on the name assigned to these suites later; the music is not "English" in any way.)

Here's my review of one of the Perahia discs, FWIW, getting into some of that pianistic stuff: Amazon.com

And some of this music is just technically very tricky to play, hazardous in the physical motions and stamina required: especially in the D minor and A major suites. These suites (all, but especially the D- and A+) take an uncommon amount of concentration, careful practice, and stylistic awareness...in the length and complexity of the music. In my opinion from playing them, the order of difficulty of these suites is: A-, F+, G-, E-, A+, D-...and none of them really "easy" in any way. That D minor suite, in difficulty, falls IMO somewhere between the Goldberg Variations (BWV 988) and the Art of Fugue (BWV 1080).

Leila Batarseh wrote (January 9, 2004):
Peter Bright wrote:
< listen to the programme again and will try to do so today. I'm often struck at how BBC reviewers seem to repeatedly choose Leonhardt's recordings as the best of the batch on harpsichord (I think they also chose his Goldbergs (BWV 988) as the best available for that work). I find this kind of odd from my own (very subjective standpoint), viewing Leonhardt >
Yes, I can't help but think that the reviewers who do the Building a Library segment are much more comfortable with the piano than the harpsichord, and pick Leonhardt as the "safe" choice for harpsichord. On the other hand, Radio 3 in general does get excited about other harpsichordists - they seem to fall all over themselves heaping praise on everything Hantaï does, for example. (Not that I'm complaining about that, I absolutely love his work.)

Leila Batarseh wrote (January 9, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< http://www.musicaloffering.com/wildboar/six_english_suites.html
Grab it. Just rationalize this by skipping a couple of pizzas. >
In a stunning turn of events, it transpires that my husband just felt like buying me something for no particular reason, and has ordered this very recording - it is on its way to my house even as I type. Am I lucky or what? (No, he has no psychic powers. There's a list of harpsichord recordings I want prominently displayed on my bulletin board.)

< And some of this music is just technically very tricky to play, hazardous in the physical motions and stamina required: especially in the D minor and A major suites. These suites (all, but especially the D- and A+) take an uncommon amount of concentration, careful practice, and stylistic awareness...in the length and complexity of the music. In my opinion from playing them, the order of difficulty of these suites is: A-, F+, G-, E-,A+, D-...and none of them really "easy" in any way. That D minor suite, in difficulty, falls IMO somewhere between the Goldberg Variations (BWV 988) and the Art of Fugue (BWV 1080). >
Can you believe this explanation never occurred to me? Since I've never played any keyboard instrument, I really can't discern the relative difficulty of various works. I shall listen to the English Suites with a new appreciation from now on.

 

Rousset/Bach

Donald Satz wrote (February 23, 2004):
Has anyone heard the new Christophe Rousset recording of the English Suites on Ambroise. It's sitting on the shelf at the local Borders, looking very attractive.

Leila Batarseh wrote (February 23, 2004):
[To Donald Satz] I heard a bit on some Radio 3 show a few weeks ago - I thought the playing was kind of mechanical, but I'm not generally a fan of Rousset so you probably don't want to take my word for that (and I wouldn't want to judge the whole performance based on one track anyway.) But I also agreed with the reviewer that the sound was pretty awful - really echo-y, and it sounded like the mikes were somewhere down the hall from the harpsichord.

 

Richter's rendering of Bach's English Suites

Dylan Dog wrote (April 25, 2004):
I was wondering if any of you could do me a little favour:

I've got this wonderful 12-year-old daughter who's doing Bach's third english suite for piano in G minor, and she's got problems understanding the style, in order to get a decent rendering of the piece. Her teacher says it's perfect but "mechanical and woody".Now, All I've got are Gould's renderings of the piece, and I must say it's not very "educational" to use him as a model, since he's practically unreachable as far as perfection is concerned.

And, since I adore Richter....
Could any of you be so nice as to send me Bach's third english suite played by Richter?

Or direct me to somewhere, where I can get it?

I don't want to buy it on the net because I don't trust online transactions

Thanx in advance for any help,

John P wrote (April 25, 2004):
[To Dylan Dog] I like Gould very much as a player but I am not that keen on his English Suites. His is the only recording I have and am looking for another. Is Angela Hewitt's to be recommended?

Uri Golomb wrote (April 25, 2004):
John Pike wrote:
< I like Gould very much as a player but I am not that keen on his English Suites. His is the only recording I have and am looking for another. Is Angela Hewitt's to be recommended? >
In my view, yes. Here's a link to my review of this set for Goldberg: http://www.goldbergweb.com/en/discography/2004/21050.php

I should add that I gave the disc five stars -- I'm not sure why the magazine decided to reduce it to four. (I asked them, and I have yet to receive an answer...) They also cut my review slightly, but not too much harm done.

F. Sato wrote (April 26, 2004):
[To Dylan Dog] I do not know Richter's recordings of BWV 808 (English Suite No.3 in G minor), but I happened to be listening to a playing by Rosalyn Tureck recorded in a recital in 1948. Although the sound quality of the CD cannot be said good, but her playing could be a model for this tune.

"The Young Visionary - Bach Recital New York, 1948" (VAI Audio: VAIA 1085)

Anne Smith wrote (April 26, 2004):
Rosalyn Tureck's rendering of Bach's English Suites

F. Sato wrote:
< I do not know Richter's recordings of BWV 808 (English Suite No.3 in G minor), but I happened to be listening to a playing by Rosalyn Tureck recorded in a recital in 1948. Although the sound quality of the CD cannot be said good, but her playing could be a model for this tune. >
I have been a piano teacher and a Gould fan for many years. I have often played Gould recordings for students, but never use him as a model. More often than not a Gould recording produces a dropped jaw and a stunned look from a student. I don't think you can ever go wrong playing a Tureck Bach recording for a student.

 

Who's the pianist?

Mats Winther wrote (April 30, 2004):
Test question:
Who is the eminent performer of this version of the prelude in English suite No. 6? (WMA 1.7 Mb)
http://hem.passagen.se/melki9/engl6_1.wma

Charles Francis wrote (April 30, 2004):
[To Mats Winther] Sounds remarkably Gould-like - most impressive whoever it is.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 30, 2004):
[To Mats Winther] It sounds quite a bit like Rübsam's typical approach in the remarkable rhythmic flexibility, but it's not either one of his two (Bayer or Naxos).

For that same reason (the gestural rhythmic flexibility, changing tempo every few bars) it sounds like something Gould wouldn't have been caught dead doing; definitely not him.

Anyway, what does "eminent" have to do with anything? Either the musicianship is convincing or it's not, regardless of any reputation of the performer.

I like the playing, although I wish the left hand part were maybe a little bit less staccato here and there. Who is it?

Mats Winther wrote (May 1, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] I'm impressed! It is Wolfgang Rübsam, actually. It's just that I speeded him up by 21% (perhaps a little too much, hence the staccato). But, probably, nobody could be this dexterous, except Gould.

Maybe it's the charm of novelty to a certain extent, but I wanted to show that Rübsam actually becomes quite enjoyable if you speed him up. I have started to appreciate my recordings of him after reburning them (I have also ordered the rest). He is rather mathematical, after all, (I don't particularly like an "aestethic" style) yet his rhytmic flexibility and intonation makes it interesting. But his original recordings are simply too slow for me.

I recently bought a software called "MAGIX Cleaning Lab 2004 e-version" and found that I can speed recordings up without changing the pitch. I think this is immensely fun! There are certain problems with artefacts in the sound sometimes (the sound disappears for a millisecond), but I managed to fix that by reworking those movements.

Do you think Wolfgang Rübsam will strangle me if he hears of this?

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 1, 2004):
Mats Winther wrote:
< I'm impressed! It is Wolfgang Rübsam, actually. It's just that I speeded him up by 21% (perhaps a little too much, hence the staccato). But, probably, nobody could be this dexterous, except Gould. >
Terrific! But watch out for that last assertion: lots of people are that dexterous...it's basic keyboard skill. (Or, given Gould's left-handedness, "sinistrous".)

Donald Satz wrote (May 2, 2004):
[To Mats Winther] It definitely isn't Keith Jarrett. How about Lang Lang? Only kidding.

 

Recommend English Suites recording

William D. Kasimer wrote (May 19, 2004):
Would people please recommend recordings of the English Suites? I went to listen tonight, and realized that while I have several recordings of Bach's major keyboard works, I have only one recording of these, Gould's. For reference, pianists I've enjoyed in other Bach works include Schepkin, Martins, Weissenberg, Feinberg, Tipo, Nikolayeva, and Gould.

I'd also appreciate any recommendations for a version of these played on harpsichord or clavichord.

Thanks -

Peter Bright wrote (May 19, 2004):
[To William D. Kasimer] My preference for these suites on piano is the recent Angela Hewitt recording on Hyperion - I class this with her very best Bach performances (along with the toccatas, partitas and French suites) - fluid, transparent and perfectly paced playing.

Uri Golomb wrote (May 19, 2004):
William D. Kasimer wrote:
< Would people please recommend recordings of the English Suites? >
My top recommendation on the piano would be Hewitt (see my review on: http://www.goldbergweb.com/en/discography/2004/21050.php -- though it contains a mistake: I gave the recording five stars, not just the four stars that appear on the web-page); I also very much enjoyed Schiff's and (especially) Perahia's versions. On harpsichord, there is Christophe Rousset's version, which I found very expressive and flexible in many movements, but a little too stiff and harsh in others (especially the concluding gigues). I have not yet heard Edward Parmentier's version, but I know it's very highly regarded (see, for example: http://www.goldbergweb.com/en/discography/1993/4641.php).

Riccardo Nughes wrote (May 19, 2004):
William D. Kasimer wrote:
< I'd also appreciate any recommendations for a version of these played on harpsichord or clavichord. >
I'm interested in any opinions about English (& French) Suites by B.Ranneau on Zig-Zag Territoires.
I have only the Leonhardt recordings and I'd like to buy a new one.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (May 19, 2004):
[To Riccardo Nughes] Me too.

Anne Smith wrote (May 19, 2004):
[To William D. Kas] I agree with Peter and Uri. Angela Hewitt studied dance. She plays these suites beautifully.

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 19, 2004):
William D. Kasimer wrote:
< Would people please recommend recordings of the English Suites? (...) I'd also appreciate any recommendations for a version of these played on harpsichord or clavichord. >
Edward Parmentier, Alan Curtis, and Christiane Jaccottet (all on harpsichord).

John Pike wrote (May 19, 2004):
[To William D. Kasimer] Like you I have only Gould for the English Suites, but Angela Hewitt's recording has been recommended on this list recently, and I think Brad recommended some others. Have a look on the Cantatas website: www.Bach-cantatas.com

Donald Satz wrote (May 20, 2004):
[To William D. Kasimer] On harpsichord, I love the Alan Curtis on Teldec and Kenneth Gilbert on Harmonia Mundi. Leonhardt's very good also. Did Parmentier record it also? If so, that's likely a winner also. Whatever you do, don't bother considering the Rousset set on Ambroisie - the sound is of the airplane hangar category.

Donald Satz wrote (May 20, 2004):
More on Rousset's English Suites

I noticed that some posters think highly of the Rousset set of the English Suites. Do any of you find the sound problematic?

William Kasimer wrote (May 20, 2004):
Thanks to all who've given suggestions. I hadn't realized that Parmentier had recorded them, but that's a "must buy" in light of my enjoyment of his recording of the Partitas. As for the piano, I'll be looking to hear Hewitt; although I was not enamored of her recording of the Goldbergs (BWV 988), I should give her a try in other music.

Mats Winther wrote (May 20, 2004):
[To William D. Kasimer] I don't particularly like her Goldberg (BWV 988), either. She is not particularly "dangerous", is she? And her intonation is somewhat curious. She can't compete with Gould on this one. I fear that she keeps a similar style on other recordings.

I suspect that our recommendations are very unreliable because our tastes are so different. When it comes to Hewitt one must keep in mind that she is a beautiful and elegant woman from North America. No wonder, then, that she plays beautifully, elegantly, and with not much aggression. Where's the pain and the thorny side of life? Perhaps she hasn't experienced much of it. Personally, my feeling for life is much more "thorny". Such things affect our preferences.

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 20, 2004):
Mats Winther wrote:
< I suspect that our recommendations are very unreliable because our tastes are so different. When it comes to Hewitt one must keep in mind that she is a beautiful and elegant woman from North America. No wonder, then, that she plays beautifully, elegantly, and with not much aggression. Where's the pain and the thorny side of life? Perhaps she hasn't experienced much of it. Personally, my feeling for life is much more "thorny". Such things affect our preferences. >
Ah, an ad feminem argument: that Hewitt can't play well because of who she is, that she's allegedly too nice and elegant a person to be able to do her job properly.

How did we get from a forthright admission such as [this performance doesn't please my tastes] to [Hewitt is incapable of doing anything that could please my tastes, because of who she is and where she lives]? Are you suggesting that she should experience some violence, at your own or somebody else's hands, such that it might help her to play better according to your tastes?

Donald Satz wrote (May 20, 2004):
[To Mats Winther] I agree with Mats about Angela Hewitt. Her poetry can be outstanding, but she tends not to get 'down and dirty'. I attended a recital she gave a couple of years ago in Los Alamos, New Mexico, and her elegance is not to be denied. Further, she handled the cell-phone ringing like the pro she is - just kept playing without missing a beat.

Mats Winther wrote (May 21, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] This is a very interesting subject. Would it be possible to discuss this without being declared a fool? I've tried to argue that "completeness of personality" is important for a musician, but no one has hooked on before.

I am sceptical of this "scientific" notion that there is a correct way, technically and historically, to play a piece. I'm not saying that it's not worthwile to study such aspects. But cunning is only one side of the coin. Another thing is the expression of a complete register of feeling through the music. Piano is ideal for this because it's such a "sensitive" instrument.

I can relate a perfect example in Shostakovich symphonies which Western symphonic orchestras render very, very, competently. But competence is not good enough. I have found that I'm attracted to the Czecho-Slovak Symphony Orchestra version (L. Slowak) although the sound is not so good and although they are not so exacting and powerful as those other famous symphony orchestras.

Why is this? It's because the Czecho-Slovak's have a capability of expressing that cold and machine-like, a kind of hairraising feeling of alienation, which the Soviet citizen Shostakovich took part in. After all, he lived during the most horrid epoque in human history: two world wars, Stalin's terror, etc. Those feelings are an integrated part of his music, together with heavenly harmony. Likewise, the best of Bach's music contains a complete register of the aspects of life.

John Pike wrote (May 21, 2004):
[To Mats Winther] Mats is going to get some support from an unlikely source here. I have not heard Angela Hewitt playing any Bach yet so this is purely a general observation. I have a feeling that there is a tendency amongst some players to "sanitise" Bach, a tendency which I don't appreciate myself. It is difficult to express this feeling in a clearer way except to say that one reason why I particularly enjoyed Schiff's latest recording of the Goldbergs (BWV 988) is that it showed none of this tendency, whereas I feel Murray Perahia's recording did exhibit something of sanitisation. That is not to say that it is not a very fine performance...it is, but I prefer Schiff.

Neil Halliday wrote (May 25, 2004):
Some Suites inferior?

Donald Satz wrote to Mats Winther:
<< What's your problem with Suites 1 & 4? Plenty of non-experts love all four of them. >>
Mats Winther wrote:
"People lacking in discriminative judgement think that practically all works of a composer are masterpieces and fail to see the big differences in quality".
True, maybe, but you didn't explain why Suites 1 and is it 4? (it can't really be 4, it's simply too brilliant) are inferior to the other two.

I have always been fascinated by the grandness of the overtures to all four Suites, although some of the dance movements seem to be of slighter musical value than these opening movements.

And then there's the problem of the fast, jerky presentation of even these grand movements, by many period groups; but Scherchen always has me standing inside the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, with his performanof the Overture to the 1st Suite.

 

Van Asperen's English Suites

Leila Batarseh wrote (May 30, 2004):
When people were discussing recordings of the English Suites recently, I don't remember anyone mentioning van Asperen's set on Brilliant Classics. Does anyone have anything to say about it? I've really been enjoying his Soler and, especially, his Froberger lately, but I've never heard any of his Bach...

 

Editions of Bach's English Suites Performed by G. Leonhardt

Jan M. Mayer wrote (June 1, 2004):
Some time ago I bought Bach's English Suites performed by Gustav Leonhardt. The recording was made in the mid of 1970's and although the performance is outstanding the recording's quality does not satisfy me. I know there is another edition of English Suites performed by Leonhardt. However, I noticed that those two editions differ in tracks' lenghts. The 1970's edition is almost 40 minutes longer than the later. What is the reason for this difference? Is the later edition worth listening/buying?

Miguel Muelle wrote (June 2, 2004):
[To Jan M. Mayer] I send this on from the MCML, mainly because I am also interested!

 

Bob van Asperen's English Suites (was: Violin Sonatas - van Dael / van Asperen)

Drew Point wrote (August 21, 2005):
Speaking of van Asperen's Bach . . .

For 7 euros I picked up a copy of his recent (1999?) recording of the English Suites (Brilliant Classics) about a month ago in a jazz / classical music store in Thessaloniki, Greece.

I expected it to be good - I have his recordings of the WTK and the Toccatas, which are quite fine - but not as excellent as it sounds to my ears! The recorded sound is superb and every detail (tempo, ornamentation, etc.) seems just right.

The English Suites, as played on the harpsichord, are really the first keyboard works of Bach that "grabbed" me. And because of my love for them, I own a number of harpsichord recordings: C. Tilney, K. Gilbert, C. Rousset, B. Verlet, E. Parmentier, and P. Watchorn.

But the van Asperen recording has become my favorite. Exuberant and thrilling in the fast dance movements, and yet meditative and graceful in the slower ones.

What do other list members think of this recording?

 

Before the Year End - The English are coming

Aryeh Oron wrote (December 31, 2006):
Following previous discographies of Bach's keyboard works (I&S, GV, Duets, WTC 1), I have added now a comprehensive discography of the English Suites BWV 806-811 (ES). Actually I had started working on this discography almost three years ago, but left it in the middle because other projects kept me busy. Now it is finished, at least the initial version of the first ever web-discography of this group of lovely works

As previously, I have used every possible source I could find, including web-catalogues, web-stores, web-magazines, and other websites, as well as various printed catalogues and my personal collection.

You can find the list of recordings of the ES split into several pages, a page for a decade, through the main page of BWV 806-811 at the BCW: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/NVD/BWV806-811.htm
This page includes, as usual, internal links to reviews & discussions, as well as external links to other pages about this work.

The list includes both recordings of complete sets (all 6 suites) and recordings of individual suites. Recordings of individual movements are not included. All in all, 97 albums with the ES are listed. As in previous discographies in the BCW, each recording is listed only once. All the issues of each recording are presented together. If a performer has recorded the ES more than once, the info includes also the recording number.

Please also notice that for most albums there is a link at the cell of the album title. This link takes you to the page of the soloist, in which you can find other Bach recordings by this artist.

If you are aware of a recording of the ES not listed in these pages, or if you find an error or missing information, please inform me, either through the BRML or to my personal e-mail address.

Happy New Year!

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 2, 2007):
Rübsam's first recording of English Suites on piano (Bayer, 1985)

Aryeh Oron wrote:
< http://www.bach-cantatas.com/NVD/BWV806-811.htm >
For the 1980-1989 page there, one to add: Wolfgang Rübsam's first recording of the English suites, on piano. That was recorded in Germany from January to April 1985. 25'00", 23'40", 19'00", 19'10", 23'00", 27'30". Released 1988.

When Rübsam did the similar set of French suites in 1986, for Bayer, he later licensed that same recording over to the Naxos issue instead of redoing it. But with the English suites he did them twice, with his 1995 remake.

Comparing the Bayer and Naxos recordings of the English suites: all the way through all six suites, Rübsam's tempos were faster in 1985 than in 1995. Almost every movement takes less time, sometimes by more than a minute, and that's with all repeats taken. They were also more straightforward, with a less nuanced rubato (it's plain-spoken and even relatively bland, which is not to say that they're dull...like some more mainstream pianistic-Bach is). Good gracefulness and clarity both times, and gently imaginative ornamentation. One thing I especially like in both recordings is Rübsam's way of emphasizing hemiolas: by lightening up the bass line with a sharper staccato. He also uses the expressive harpsichordistic technique of sometimes holding single notes longer than notated, while the same hand continues to play the other passagework in tempo, more lightly. The selective "overheld" notes emphasize harmonic motion, without clogging up the texture overall in the way a piano's damper pedal does. Rübsam's ability to differentiate "old" and "new" notes, phrase to phrase, is also outstanding.

As I've said somewhere else before, Rübsam in his piano recordings of Bach treats the piano sort of like an overgrown clavichord, emphasizing the music's delicacy and dance: with a crisp touch and terrific control shading his dynamics down to the quietest levels. I got to hear him play some of this repertoire in concerts, 20 years ago, and I remember that it was a well-focused and intimate approach, similar to that heard on these recordings.

 

English Suites BWV 806-811: Details
Recordings:
1900-1949 | 1950-1959 | 1960-1969 | 1970-1979 | 1980-1989 | 1990-1999 | 2000-2009 | 2010-2019
Comparative Review:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6
Reviews of Individual Recordings:
English - A. Hewitt | English - M. Perahia Vol. 2 | English - P. Watchorn | W. Rübsam - Part 4
General Discussions:
Part 1

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Last update: July 12, 2010 21:01:25