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Charles Owen argues Bach’s six Partitas represent a journey. And indeed, this twofer of the complete Partitas, on straight run-through, is a transformative process for the listener, who emerges at the other end refreshed and renewed, marveling at Bach’s never-ending invention. Although the journey is far from being linear, the Partita No 6 (E minor) clearly seeks to touch the Divine: Owen himself makes parallels in his notes between this piece and the St Matthew Passion. The performances Owen gave of Suites Nos 1, 2 and 4 at last year’s London Piano Festival were excellent, but the twofer allows one to experience the span complete.

Well-recorded on a fine Steinway, and annotated both by the pianist himself and Christopher Cook, this issue offers a fascinating exploration of the world of Bach’s Partitas. Owen presents them in the order 1-2-4-3-5-6, enabling the first disc to close with the extended D major. For Partita No 1, Owen is necessarily in direct competition with Lipatti, while for the whole cycle it is Hewitt or Levit who exert the greatest pull. Yet Owen’s strength is the honesty and directness of his interpretation: his Bach speaks more directly than Hewitt’s; and while he cannot hope to match the transcendental Lipatti, his B-flat Partita retains its attraction, not least in the superbly beautiful Sarabande (the equivalent movement in the Partita No 5 is another highlight). The clear highlight of disc one is the substantial Allemande of the Partita No 4. Owen seems to relish the quirkiness of some of Bach’s writing (try the Burlesca from Partita No 3 or the exploratory Toccata that opens Partita No 6). Most rewarding.

COLIN CLARKE Read the full review on Agora Classica

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