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GRAMOPHONE ( Awards 2021 - 11/2021)
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Decca  4852088  

Code barres / Barcode : 0028948520886


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Reviewer: Jed Distler

Although Vladimir Ashkenazy gave up public piano performances in 2007 due to arthrosis, he still could achieve memorable, world-class results under studio conditions, such as in his recordings of Rachmaninov’s Piano Sonata No 1 (3/12) and Bach’s French Suites (8/17). Not so here, I’m afraid.

Ashkenazy’s readings of Bach’s first three English Suites suffer from a pervasive stiffness, uneven articulation and little dynamic variation. The A major Courante (Suite No 1) is a case in point, where the rhythmic definition fades in and out, although one must credit the pianist’s shift in voicing and emphasis on the repeats. While he sustains the vigorous tempo he sets for the Prelude of the A minor Suite (No 2), certain lines rush ahead ever so slightly, while contrapuntal distinction dissipates in louder, thicker moments. Perhaps Ashkenazy’s minimum application of pedal magnifies the rather mechanical, characterless impression of the G minor Allemande (Suite No 3), certainly when measured alongside the shapely elegance and control of András Schiff’s earlier Decca traversal.

In the Sarabandes, I would have at least expected Ashkenazy’s experience and longstanding lyrical gifts to transcend any physical limitations. Yet his straightforward, matter-of-fact A minor Sarabande sounds utterly brusque and perfunctory compared to Murray Perahia’s expansive songfulness. On the other hand, one must acknowledge the G minor Sarabande’s sensitively sculpted long lines, while the subsequent Gavottes and concluding Gigue find Ashkenazy on fine, focused form. This release offers a bonus disc containing the pianist’s intelligently exuberant 1965 account of the D minor Concerto with David Zinman and the London Symphony Orchestra. It remains Ashkenazy’s most enduring Bach achievement.

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