The so-called French Suites are actually no more French stylistically than either of Bach’s other sets of keyboard suites, the English Suites and the Partitas. They are a fascinating mixture of movements of differing national styles, primarily French and Italian, lacking an introductory movement such as a prelude and conceived for performers without the virtuoso technique demanded in particular by the Partitas.
In the sleeve note for his 1961 recording on L’Oiseau-Lyre, reprinted for this newly remastered reissue, Thurston Dart argues persuasively for the use of what was supposed to have been Bach’s favourite keyboard instrument, the clavichord. Softer in volume, the intimate clavichord also allows for more dynamic variation than the harpsichord, as well as subtleties of tone.
With this and several other L’Oiseau-Lyre recordings issued in 2019, Eloquence celebrates the art of Thurston Dart, the harpsichordist, conductor and editor who played a leading role in the early-music revival in postwar Britain. After his death in 1971 at the age of just 49, his fellow harpsichordist Igor Kipnis paid fulsome tribute to ‘the ideal musicologist-performer.’
To accommodate all six suites on a single LP, Dart omitted all repeats from the scores, but in other respects the album loses nothing by comparison with recordings of the Suites from our own, more ‘historically informed’ times, and is sure to give pleasure to Bach connoisseurs as well as listeners unfamiliar with the unpretentious charms of the French Suites. To bring the unique, ethereal sound of the clavichord into your listening room, the listener is recommended – not least by Dart himself – to play back the recording at a relatively low volume.
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750)
French Suites, BWV 812–817
1–6 Suite No. 1 in D minor, BWV 812
7–11 Suite No. 2 in C minor, BWV 813
12–17 Suite No. 3 in B minor, BWV 814
18–24 Suite No. 4 in E flat major, BWV 815
25–31 Suite No. 5 in G major, BWV 816
32–39 Suite No. 6 in E major, BWV 817
Thurston Dart, clavichord
FIRST CD RELEASE ON DECCA
Recording Producer: Erik Smith
Balance Engineer: Arthur Lilley
Recording Location: Decca Studios, West Hampstead, 15–16 January 1961
Original L’Oiseau-Lyre Release: SOL 60039: February 1962
“Thurston Dart’s performances… make unfailingly satisfying listening by reason of their sheer musicality, their stylishness, their varied articulation and their wealth of expressive nuance.” Gramophone, February 1962
“Dart’s playing is most expressive, and those who have come to regard his approach to slow movements as severe will find the Sarabandes very much on the romantic side. Delightful performances.” The Musical Times, April 1962
“The sarabandes are especially well done: here Mr. Dart’s songlike sustaining of the melodic line is matched among harpsichordists only by such masters as Landowska and Kirkpatrick.” High Fidelity, June 1962
“Dart’s playing of the French Suites is enjoyable simply as music – graceful, witty, tender, and wonderfully moving.” Stereo Review, July 1962