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Clarity and pureness of articulation, coupled with impeccable musicality, have long marked Perahia’s Mozart; here they illuminate Bach in his first release for the ‘Yellow Label’. Perahia has made his mark in Bach previously: superb recordings on Sony of concertos (ASMF), a top-of-the-field Goldberg Variations and excellent English Suites. This release is of a similarly exalted level, the superb recording-perspective warm yet fully supporting Perahia’s textural transparency. Perahia does use pedal, but expressively.

Hearing the six French Suites in one sitting underlines the profound humanity of this music. To describe Perahia’s delivery as non-interventionist would be to do it a disservice, but this does sit at the opposite pole from Gould: the performances are fully about Bach, not Perahia, shining with honesty. Technically, every Suite is impeccable, not just in terms of surface delivery but also in touch and rhythm. Repeats are observed, with spontaneous-sounding decorations added on second airings.

Perahia’s uses pedal in the Allemande to the First Suite (D minor) to conjure up transcendent worlds. Poise and dignity mark the Courante, but there is something else there too: an unstated but underlying tension supporting the narrative; in sympathetic response to this, the disturbances to the Sarabande’s peace are unmistakable.

It is the Sarabandes in each case that form the still centre of the Suites, and it is here that Perahia seems to isolate the very heart of Bach’s world. Perahia’s achievement is to convey the glorious diversity of Bach’s invention in these works: the famous Gavotte of Suite No 5, deliciously despatched, lies next to a limpid Laure.

An indispensable release, not just for lovers of Bach, but for all musicians of whatever shade.

COLIN CLARKE Read the full review on Agora Classica

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