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GRAMOPHONE (01/2020)
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Bach: the French Suites Product Image

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Reviewer: Patrick Rucker

She is first and foremost a deeply expressive player, whose Bach speaks with tremendous stylistic assurance. She pulls off the ‘unmeasured prelude’ of the E flat French Suite with the improvisatory élan of a schooled continuo veteran. The Sarabandes, which feature as the third or fourth movement in all six Suites, exhibit wide-ranging character, yet with a beautifully poised cantabile in common. Although I find the accentuation in the concluding Gigues a bit distracting in the long run, tempos are secure and the character of the dance always convincing.

The Adagio, BWV968, after the first movement of the C major Solo Violin Sonata, unfolds with a relaxed sway, leaving the impression of an especially apt and congenial transfer to keyboard. Mention must be made of the A minor Fantasia, BWV922, one of the standouts among Bach’s keyboard works for the thorny challenges it poses. Papastefanou arrives at a reading that, while fundamentally serious, allows ample space for playful spontaneity. The result is a performance of considerable virtuosity and imagination, free of fussy mannerism.

I can do little more than echo Jed Distler’s enthusiasm when he wrote of her second recording of the entire Well-Tempered Clavier (10/18), ‘Papastefanou more than holds her own alongside the catalogue’s top piano versions of the “48”.’ If you like Bach on the piano, you’ll probably take keen pleasure in these interpretations. Rather than imposing a didactic approach on her listeners, Papastefanou beckons them towards Bach by the gentle exercise of her own enthusiasm and sensibilities.

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