One of the most wonderful CDs of Bach keyboard music (indeed surely one of greatest Bach recordings ever) is Martha Argerich’s 1979 disc of the Partita No. 2, the Toccata BWV 911, and the English Suite No. 2. She plays with a quite extraordinary combination of clarity and sensitivity, of life and intensity. A hard act to follow.
Yet here in a new release is the young French pianist David Fray, also playing the Partita No. 2 and the same Toccata, but this time completing the disc (more generously) with the Partita No. 6. Surely the overlapping choice of programme here isn’t accidental. He is inviting a comparison. How does Fray’s disc stand up?
I thought (and still think) that his recording of the Schubert Impromptus Op.90 and the Moments Musicaux is stunning (much better in this repertoire than the mannered Paul Lewis). I haven’t, though, heard his previous much admired Bach discs. But I’m now a new convert here too. This disc is surely remarkable. Fray has said “We shouldn’t be afraid of acknowledging the expressiveness of Bach’s music”. And this is indeed expressive playing (yet within reason, without exaggeration), and again there’s great clarity and intensity. There is, for example, appropriate introspection in the 2nd Partita’s Sarabande and zest in the 6th Partita’s Air. This is overall a truly thoughtful and impressive recording. Warmly recommended.