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Review: J.S. Bach – Inventionen und Sinfonien / Französische Suite V

April 16, 2009

Review of Till Fellner’s new album of JS Bach’s Inventions and Sinfonies, and the French Suite V released by Ecm New Series.

I think that the classical music world sometimes gets too caught up in heralding the best possible recording of a work.  People get distracted looking for the definitive and as a result miss out on true artistry.  Luckily, that dynamic has failed to discourage great musicians from recording great music, as is the case with the recent album by Till Fellner and his recordings of Bach’s Two Part Inventions, Three Part Sinfonies, and the Fifth French Suite…

I think that the classical music world sometimes gets too caught up in heralding the best possible recording of a work.  People get distracted looking for the definitive and as a result miss out on true artistry.  Luckily, that dynamic has failed to discourage great musicians from recording great music, as is the case with the recent album by Till Fellner and his recordings of Bach’s Two Part Inventions, Three Part Sinfonies, and the Fifth French Suite.

The reality is that it does take some gumption to go down a path that has been so heavily tread in the past – Arkiv Music has 55 recordings in stock of the French Suite and 21 recordings of the Inventions and Sinfonies.  How does one even manage to get heard above that din of keyboard music?  As Fellner says “I always try to do my best, of course, but in the end it can only be a snapshot.”

The idea of a snapshot I think can be useful when picking up an album like this, even if you already own another set or partial set of these pieces.  No recording is the same (even by the same artist, ensemble, or conductor), and if different snapshots of the same piece accomplishes anything, it demonstrates that a single piece of music can express so many different things.  Put in the hands of one musician a piece of music can feel electrifying, in the care of another it can explore the duality of timelessness and immediacy.

Those were the only adequate words that came to mind while listening to Fellner’s artistry.  He was able to capture the endless motion of Bach’s music alongside the constant push of its harmonies excellently in the Two and Three part works.  While these pieces were intended to be educational music, to practice the skills needed for polyphonic keyboard playing, they are certainly not childish or devoid of emotion as etudes would be.

The French Suite on the record is a wonderful compliment, as well.  These works are made to dance when appropriate and float when necessary thanks to Fellner’s technique.   Perhaps a snapshot isn’t the right word for an album such as this.  Snapshots after all, can’t move.

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