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French Suites BWV 812-817

Joseph Payne (Harpsichord)

Payne’s French suites in the Brilliant Classics box


J.S. Bach: The Six French Suites BWV 812-817


Two-Part Inventions (15), BWV 772-786 [24:16]
French Suites BWV 812-817 [15:17, 16:22, 15:45, 14:33, 18:41, 16:32]
Six Little Preludes BWV 933-938 [2:01, 1:48, 1:40, 2:08, 1:57, 2:04]

Joseph Payne (Harpsichord)

Brilliant Classics

Mar 1992

2-CD / TT: 133:04
2-CD / TT: 93:03

Recorded at Forde Estate, Boston, Massachusetts, USA. 1st recording of Two-Part Inventions BWV 772-786 by J. Payne. The Brillant Classics includes only the French Suites.
Buy this album at: [BIS]

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 20, 2001):
I've been enjoying the 12-CD Brilliant Classics set of Bach's harpsichord would be worth having even at twice the price, or more. ( has it for $23.88.)

Menno van Delft's Art of Fugue, Bob van Asperen's English suites, and Pieter Dirksen's concerto transcriptions are among the best-performed harpsichord recordings that I know for those works. Van Delft's toccatas and Pieter-Jan Belder's inventions/sinfonias are also very good, in my estimation. (And remember, I'm hard to please here, as I'm a professional harpsichordist myself...these are "bread and butter" pieces that I play regularly, and I know how I like them to go.)

So, this boxed set is really something. I haven't yet got to Belder's two other discs of miscellaneous pieces. But, any of the above is already worth far more than the price I paid, so the rest of it is a bonus.

Last night while doing some housework I put on the first of the two French suites discs, without really looking at it first.

The virtues are obvious: well-judged basic tempos, and all repeats taken. But the interpretations seemed a bit stiff and unimaginative, as if this were a good sight-reader just going through all the notes. (There's nothing here resembling van Asperen's much more persuasive English suites....) It was OK but not commanding much attention one way or the other. It was sort of like hearing decent students who read the notes just fine, but haven't yet developed much personality in their playing. Not bad, while not great either.

Then the gigue of the first suite came on, and I had to rush to the machine to look at the box. "Who IS it they got for this set, some halfway-beginner who can't even read rhythms properly?! What a mess!" And I was startled to see that it was the venerable Joseph Payne. The gigue of the second suite confirmed the same thing: major trouble playing dotted rhythms clearly, with any solid footing. Awful. Not at all what one would expect from a professional player who has 30 years of recordings on his resume. And why did the producer let this mess slip through? Who was listening?

All around, this is a real disappointment after the strengths of the rest of this boxed set had raised my expectations. I listened to his second disc of French suites this morning, and it's back to the unexceptional stolidness. Nothing horrible, nothing memorable, all a bit wooden. None of it sounds gracefully French, or fresh, or capricious; just a bunch of notes delivered pretty much as they look on the page. Why bother?

And there was more of the badly-regulated buff stop. Payne uses the buff stop a lot, and it can be nice, but this one has some big problems of inconsistency in the low tenor range (some of the pieces of the leather don't touch the strings firmly enough)...again, wasn't anybody listening closely? Or didn't they care enough to fix it?

During the first disc yesterday my wife offered the perceptive comment: "Whoever this is, they sound like an organist, not a specialist in harpsichord." Right on, ding ding ding. Payne plays both organ and harpsichord, and I think he's better at organ. His harpsichord playing doesn't quite have the range of rhythm or voice-staggering that would let the music be fully's solid but not especially imaginative.

I have a pretty big stack of Payne recordings, some going back to the 1970s, and most of them are fairly good...nothing outlandishly bad, anyway. He's reliable enough. So, this French suites set (especially the awful rhythm in those gigues) came as a rude shock. Bad day for Payne?

Anyway, I can just remind myself again that this set of French suites came free along with a box of good performances, and since it's free I shouldn't complain so much.

My favorite Payne discs remain: a BIS CD of John Bull works, a CD of "The Dublin Virginal Manuscript," and those two early wacky RCA LPs called "Spaced-Out Bach"...Payne overdubbing himself in some almost orchestral-sounding arrangements of Bach, but with all the parts played on harpsichord.


Feedback to the Review

Kirk McElhearn wrote (December 20, 2001):
[To Bradley Lehman] Interesting. If you recall, I posted a review of this set several months ago, and found it to be very interesting. What you see as bad rhythm I found to be imaginative. I'll have to listen to them again in light of your comments.

I do agree that, overall, the BC keyboard set is great value. Not the best performances of the works, but fine playing.


French Suites BWV 812-817: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | French - Brookshire | French - Cates [Satz] | French - Cates [Schwartz] | French - Dart | French - Payne | French - Rannou [McElhearn] | Freanch - Rannou [Satz] | Rübsam - Part 1 | French - Suzuki

Joseph Payne: Short Biography | Recordings of Instrumental Works
Reviews of Instrumental Recordings:
Payne’s French suites in the Brilliant Classics box | Goldbergs by Joseph Payne

Instrumental Works: Recordings, Reviews & Discussions - Main Page | Order of Discussion
Recording Reviews of Instrumental Works: Main Page | Organ | Keyboard | Solo Instrumental | Chamber | Orchestral, MO, AOF
Performers of Instrumental Works: Main Page | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z


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