Donald Satz wrote (August 18, 2000):
Partita No. 2 in C minor, BWV 826 - Partita No. 2 begins with a three part Sinfonia which is essentially a French Overture with a difference. Generally, a French Overture moves directly from the dotted rhythm introduction to a fugue-type movement. In this case, the Grave adagio and Allegro fugue are separated by a highly lyrical and expressive Andante. I consider this Andante the heart of the Sinfonia. Any excellent performance has to dig into this heart to find and convey the rapture inherent in the music. Pinnock and Hewitt are the two versions that do not succeed well in the Andante; they are rather superficial and of little impact.
The two Horszowski peformances share much in common. Both are outstanding in the Grave Adagio and the Andante, providing fully expressive and poignant readings, and both are underpowered and convey little excitement in the two part fugue. I prefer the piano sound in the Arbiter recording, but there is a fairly consistent "buzz" out of the right channel. The Arbiter is also slower than the BBC, although I don't find that aspect significant. Given a few twists and turns, both performances are highly rewarding and better than Pinnock and Hewitt. But there is much room for improvement in the fugue.
Goode and Schepkin are certainly not underpowered in the fugue, but they are not very expressive either. As with the Horszowski performances, Goode and Schepkin are excellent in the Grave Adagio and the Andante.
That leaves three masterful interpretations from start to finish. Tureck uses a slow tempo to envelop the listener in the poetry and subtle urgency of the Andante; her pacing is outstanding. Her fugue has power and expressiveness in abundance. Leonhardt is on the quick side without any loss of tenderness, and his Fugue is a thrilling experience. Argerich is quite fast with superb accenting; she gets to the core of each of the three parts of the Sinfonia. Listening to any of these three versions is really making my day.
The Allemande harkens back to the Sinfonia's Andante in mood, depth, and lyricism. Schepkin is fast and tends to glide on the music's surface. Hewitt does likewise. Horszowski/BBC doesn't compare well with its Arbiter counterpart; pacing is inferior, and there is insufficient angularity.
Goode and Pinnock give very fine performances, just lacking that last ounce of depth. Argerich, Tureck, Leonhardt, and Horszowski/Arbiter are excellent. Argerich provides a lesson to Schepkin in how to be quick paced and still deliver a beautifully nuanced reading. Tureck is quite slow and very noble and tender. Leonhardt displays the greatest urgency, and Horszowski is stately and elegant. Each of the four makes the music special.
The Courante is versatile music which sounds wonderful fast or moderately paced. Horszowski/Arbiter is certainly fast but not pleasant listening; a host of technical errors by Horszowski becomes hard to absorb on repeated listenings. Goode is also fast and not pleasant as it is a jarring performance which I find a little unmusical. The other fast performances, Pinnock, Argerich, and Horszowski/BBC are very rewarding; they are exciting and highly expressive.
The remaining versions are of moderate tempo. Hewitt, Leonhardt, and Schepkin are fine interpretions. Hewitt is celebratory (and a little pompous), Leonhardt is incisive, and Schepkin provides a very smooth and dream-like reading. Tureck is best as she uses much staccato to great effect, highlights the counterpoint much better than any other version, and envelops it all in a veil of mystery.
The Sarabande is a gorgeous piece of music with a strong degree of urgency and emotional longing. Getting the beauty out of the music is fairly simple; delivering the urgency and longing is another matter. Schepkin performs the initial theme superbly with great urgency and longing. However, in his repeat of the first theme, he apparently thinks that a series of trills does the trick; I don't agree. I find those trills annoying and no substitute for sincere feelings. Something else is starting to irritate me about Schepkin's performances; he can be very stingy with repeats, even those where there *are* different notes and melodies to play. In the Sarabande, Schepkin omits, imho, a section of the piece which contains one of the finest passages of the Sarabande. So, although in many respects this is an excellent performance, the trills and omissions make it problematic.
Hewitt also has problems with a relatively quick and "light" performance which doesn't dig deeply into the urgency and longing of the music. I'm finding that Hewitt often has a different conception than I have of Bach movements; I'm sure that's the case with the Sarabande.
Horszowski/Arbiter is an excellent performance and better than his BBC performance; the sound is richer and sharper, and the interpretation is deeper and better paced. Joining the Airbiter are Argerich and Pinnock. Argerich is beautifully nuanced and Pinnock, this time, gets to the heart of the music.
Tureck, Goode, and Leonhardt provide special performances. Tureck is the slowest version and she's mesmerizing; in addition to a strong sense of longing and urgency, Tureck projects to me a deep feeling of regret as well. Goode has the best pacing and projection of the intensity of longing in the music. I think Leonhardt, more than the other artists, is inside this Sarabande and continuously explores its center.
Next is a frisky and exciting Rondeaux of short duration. Both Horszowski performances can best be described as "unpolished" and represent the hazards of a live concert performance. There are too many choppy passages and a lack of continuity. Tureck is not unpolished, but she is much too soft-focused in passages requiring strong projection; the result is a loss of energy and excitement. Also, when playfulness is required, Tureck tends to have too strong a touch.
The remaining versions are highly rewarding, well displaying the playfulness and excitement of the Rondeaux. Pinnock is my favorite; he has a very light touch which highlights the music's playfulness, yet he lacks nothing in power and excitement when called for. The contrast with Tureck is illuminating in favor of Pinnock's reading.
Partita No. 2 concludes with a Capriccio. The Pinnock liner notes refer the piece as "wild". I would just want to add that it's a controlled wildness which is so appealing about the music. It takes me to the edge of the plank, but I never fall off. Pinnock lives up to the liner note description splendidly; his performance is indeed wild and well controlled throughout. The same applies to Leonhardt who uses a slower tempo.
The other versions are fine except for Schepkin, Horszowski/BBC, and Tureck. Schepkin delivers a herky-jerky reading of little lyricism, Horszowski makes many technical errors, and Tureck sounds too soft centered.
Leonhardt, as with the first Partita, gives the best intrpretation. He is, at a minimum, excellent in every movement. Leonhardt only offers strengths; I haven't noticed a single weakness. Tureck, after four movements, was breezing along with the best reading, but the Rondeax and Capriccio were more than she could handle. Fast movements requiring consistent strength are not Tureck's best areas. But, those first four movements are outstanding. Argerich also gives an excellent account which is more consistently rewarding than Tureck; the sound quality is excellent and better than for her recent recording of Chopin's Piano Concertos.
Horszowski/Arbiter and Goode provide very fine performances with many rewarding insights. Hewitt, Schepkin, and Horszowski/BBC, although offering good performances, do not hold up well to the other versions. Hewitt often is not deep into the music, Schepkin displays an assortment of eccentricities, and Horszowski has much trouble with speed.
Pinnock is almost as good as Argerich and Tureck. Excepting for a weak Sinfonia, Pinnnock's performances are excellent. I indicated, after listening to his Partita No. 1, that Pinnock needed to dig deeper into the music. I feel that he is largely successful in the second Partita. His Rondeax and Capriccio are particularly impressive.
It's been very satisfying having Argerich, Goode, and the two Horszowski versions to review. But for Partita No. 3, I'll be back down to the five full sets. Leonhardt's is the one set that is shaping up to be an outstanding front-runner. He goes from strength to strength, always providing probing interpretations.