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Partitas BWV 825-830

Bernard Roberts (Piano)

Bach’s Partitas for Harpsichod from Bernard Roberts


J.S. Bach: The Complete Partitas, BWV 825-830

Partitas BWV 825-830 [18:13, 10:43, 19:57, 32:47, 21:22, 30:54]

Bernard Roberts (Piano)

Nimbus Records

Jul 2000

2-CD / TT: 143:56

Recorded at Wyastone, England.
Buy this album at:

Donald Satz wrote (July 14, 2001):
Summary for the Piano Enthusiast: Enjoyable and light

Bernard Roberts and I last hooked up with his full set of Bach's Well Tempered Clavier on Nimbus. I found Robert's WTC an enjoyable listening experience although it was rather low on profundity. Since I consider the Partitas to not possess the level of emotional depth nor complexity of the WTC, Roberts might be a better match for the Partitas.

In the review process, I mainly used for comparison the Angela Hewitt Partitas on Hyperion, Rosalyn Tureck on the Philips Great Pianist series, and Wolfgang Rubsam on Naxos. Those three sets are excellent and represent a worthy challenge for Roberts to meet.

Overall, the Roberts set is a fine one characterized by smooth flow and a delicate nature. The performances are lovely, tasteful, mainstream, and entirely limpid. Tempos are average or faster. I definitely prefer this set of the Partitas to the Roberts WTC set. If you put your cd player on the 'random play/shuffle' mode, I'm sure that the first track played will adhere to the above description. So far, so good.

What holds Roberts back from true excellence is that he does not reach the soul of Bach's music; I don't get the sense that Roberts makes any attempt to get there either. He has no interest in any intense levels of emotion in the music; this results in a limited emotional breadth to the performances. Artists such as Tureck and Rubsam go the extra mile and attempt to find Bach's core. Actually, Rubsam and Roberts are like night and day when compared to one another. Rubsam investigates and often sounds
improvisatory; Roberts sounds as if he decided ahead of time that each movement of each Partita will be played in as upbeat and limpid fashion as possible - one size fits all.

Some examples

Partita No. 1 in B flat major - The Praeludium and Sarabande are rather quick paced, transparent, and sufficiently poignant; however, switch to Tureck and a much greater intensity of emotion is conveyed. The Roberts Allemande is beautiful and delicate; Pires in her DG Bach recital disc gives an absolutely thrilling performance of distinction.

Partita No. 2 in C minor - Some of the music in this Partita, particularly the Andante of the Sinfonia, the Sarabande, and the concluding Capriccio, possess great depth of emotion. Roberts is short on the rapture within the Andante, short on the emotional longing/urgency in his quick Sarabande, and miles away from any wildness in the Capriccio. Rubsam and Tureck give these three movements levels of energy and depth that Roberts does not recognize. He does provide an outstanding Rondeaux which is quite frisky and alluring.

Partita No. 3 in A minor - The Roberts opening Fantasia has a nice rhythm to it and is competitive with other versions. His Allemande flows like silk and is more expressive than most alternatives, although it lacks the probing nature of the Rubsam interpretation. The Corrente is poetic but a little lacking in generating exciting build-ups for the climaxes in the second theme. The Sarabande is played quickly and is pleasant listening, but other versions such as Rubsam's allow the listener to luxuriate in the music and find more emotional depth. Roberts does better in the last three movements with poetic and sufficiently strong performances; the Gigue is particularly exciting and not far behind the 'all hell breaks loose' reading from Tureck.

Partita No. 4 in D major - For me, this Partita is the most inspired of the six and the litmus test for the performer. Roberts comes up with another attractive performance which is on the light side concerning the Overture, Allemande, and Sarabande.

Partita No. 5 in G major - The Roberts Praeambulum is an excellent one: frisky and radiant. The Allemande and Sarabande are a little surface-bound, and the Italian Corrente is appropriately energetic and delicate. The Tempo di Minuetto is a witty and quirky piece which Roberts handles excellently. Although light and enjoyable, Roberts brings little excitement to the Passepied or concluding Gigue.

Partita No. 6 in E minor begins with a Toccata in the prelude-fugue-prelude sequence. The Prelude is full of excitement, the Fugue is thought-provoking. Roberts does not deliver much excitement or intensity, although superb sound and limpid playing makes for a highly enjoyable listening experience. Roberts also tends to play down the intensity of the Allemande. The next movement, a Corrente, has syncopation as its dominant feature, but Roberts does little to highlight it; in contrast, Hewitt's syncopation is stunning. The Roberts Air flows nicely but could have been more angular and mischevious. After a pleasant but ordinary performance of the Sarabande, Roberts gives the Tempo di Gavotta an appealing bounce and vibrancy. The Partita ends with a Gigue possessing severe counterpoint which still needs to 'dance'. Roberts well conveys the dance properties, but the severity is only skimmed; Leonhardt manages to deliver the dance properites while also highlighting the severity of the music.

Don's Conclusions: The Roberts Partitas set never offends or veers off into uncharted territory. The performances are always transparent and quite enjoyable. However, Bach has much more to offer than Roberts presents to us. Listening to Roberts with full concentration does get to be a little trying because of the low degree of intensity in his interpretations. Generally, the lighter the music, the better the performances. When depth or any strong emotion is needed, Roberts is not in the picture.

I considered the WTC set from Roberts a great one for listening to while driving; his Partitas set is even better in that environment. Believe me, I don't take the driving issue lightly. I have quite a few recordings which are dedicated for vehicular purposes, and Roberts is prime-time in that regard. I wouldn't recommend this set at premium price, but Naxos is offering it for the cost of just one premium-priced disc. With great sound and always pleasing performances, Roberts should well satisfy unless your intent is to dive into the core of Bach; in that case, Roberts will not be by your side.


Partitas BWV 825 830:
Comparative Review:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6
Reviews of Individual Recordings:
Partitas - P. Anderszewski [McElhearn] | Partitas - P. Anderszewski [Satz] | Partitas - L. Corolan & I. Kipnis | Partitas - E. Feller 1 | Partitas - E. Parmentier | Partitas - A. Rangell | GV & Partitas - K. Richter | Partitas - B. Roberts | Partitas - S. Ross | Partitas - S. Sager | Partitas - C. Sheppard | Partitas - J.L. Steuerman | Partitas - M. Suzuki [McElhearn] | Partitas - M. Suzuki [Henderson] | Partitas - C. Tiberghien | Partitas - R. Troeger | Partitas - B. Verlet | Partitas - K. Weiss | Rübsam - Part 2 | Rübsam - Part 3

Bernard Roberts: Short Biography | Recordings of Instrumental Works
Reviews of Instrumental Recordings:
Bach’s Partitas for Harpsichord from Bernard Roberts

Instrumental Works: Recordings, Reviews & Discussions - Main Page | Order of Discussion
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Performers of Instrumental Works: Main Page | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z


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