Donald Satz wrote (August 29, 2000):
Partita No. 4 in D major, BWV 828 - The Partita in D major might be the most popular of the six; it is certainly my favorite. It begins with a superb French-style Overture: the double-dotted Grave is followed by a three part fugue. What makes a performance of this movement excellent and memorable? For me, the Grave is most effective when it has a ceremonial swagger, urgency, and probing/heart-felt pacing and accenting; the fugue needs to be very powerful, exciting, and still highly lyrical. Of course, the music can well handle a number of different approaches which can be highly rewarding to listeners.
After listening to each version a few times, I am very impressed with the overall level of performance. Schepkin's is a very good and quick reading with much urgency and poetry in the Grave and a fairly exciting Fugue. The only problem is that the other versions are so good that Schepkin's fine performance is at the bottom as it is not highly distinctive compared to the others and lacks a little "polish".
Kahane is even faster than Schepkin in the Grave, perhaps a little too fast with reduced poetry. Kahane more than makes up for any small problem in the Grave with the most exciting Fugue of the eight versions. He takes me on a roller coaster ride while still maintaining a high degree of lyricism.
Goode represents the reverse of Kahane. Goode's Fugue is somewhat underpowered although very lyrical and elegant. His Grave is a work of art; everything I could want in this music is what Goode delivers. The ceremonial swagger is in full swing as is the sense of urgency, poetry, and depth of feeling. The pacing is outstanding; the Grave doesn't get any better than this.
Leonhardt does a fine job in both the Grave and Fugue. My basic reservation concerns the recorded sound which is somewhat harsh and reduces my listening pleasure. He's better than Schepkin but not at the high level of Goode or Kahane.
Four versions are outstanding in both the Grave and Fugue. Tureck is slowest as she probes every note and provides the best counterpoint of any version; she also uses staccato to wonderful effect. Gould is penetrating, exciting, and delivers a thoroughly majestic reading. Hewitt is superbly ceremonial in the Grave and powerful and exquisitely poetic in the Fugue. Pinnock hits all the right buttons, and his Fugue is perpertual motion. I've spent three days listening to this music, and each of these four versions just sounds better with time.
The Allemande is one of my favorite Bach keyboard pieces. This is a good time to bring up the subject of masterful vs. magical music. Masterful music is a treasure to listen to with its superb combination of craft and artistry. Magical music almost defies description as it hardly seems possible that a human is the composer; the music is from the "Gods", and the listening experience is at an exalted level. That's how I feel about this allemande - it is a magical piece with an abundance of magical moments.
Naturally, with music of this quality, I want performances which fully deliver the magic. Goode delivers none; his performance is beautiful, hear-felt, and poignant. He well projects Bach's mastery but nothing more. Much of the problem is the extremely soft focus of his interpretation; this music has a strong element of the affirmation of life, and Goode is too demure. Hewitt, Schepkin, Leonhardt, Pinnock, and Kahane give outstanding readings. Projection, depth, lyricism, etc. are all at a high level. However, magic is sporadic.
Tureck and Gould deliver magical readings throughout the Allemande. Each is very strongly projected, continuously probing all elements of the music while conveying the highest levels of beauty and lyricism. Gould's version has two aspects I don't care for; he skips the first theme's repeat, and there are two spots where I don't appreciate his use of staccato. But, his is a majestic reading which easily overcomes the two reservations. The listening experience with both versions has an other-worldly quality to it.
Although the Courante has the disadvantage of following the supreme Allemande, it is an outstanding piece is its own right, loaded with momentum, power, and lyricism. Kahane takes the very fast route, yet doesn't deliver much power or momentum; he also tends to be choppy with a resulting loss of lyricism.
Leonhardt's version is very good with plenty of momentum and power; the lyricism is low, however, as he's too austere and the sound has a rough quality to it. Tureck is slow paced and probing. Her only problem is some very weak projection which keeps the performance from being superb. Hewitt is also very good with a moderate tempo and fine power and momentum; she does get a little choppy at times. Schepkin is highly lyrical with a slight lack of sufficient projection.
Gould is a master of projection, and he fully displays it in the Courante. Like Tureck, he is slow paced, but his reading is majestic and heroic. I feel it's a superior performance which is the best of the eight versions.
Goode, as with Kahane, takes the fast track, and he is so much better at it. His momentum, power, and lyricism are always at a high level. The same applies to Pinnock who is a little slower than Goode. Both these versions are bettered only by Gould.
I find much of the music in Partita No. 4 to be of a ceremonial and heroic nature. Such is the case with the next movement, a joyful aria in 2/4 time. And Gould is the performer who really brings out consistently the piece's heroic elements; his staccato is also stunning. Each of the other versions has many fine points but can't compare to Gould. I'd just like to mention that Goode provides a slow, luxurious, and highly poetic reading that's quite beautiful, although without any trace of ceremony. Also, when I was playing Goode, my wife actually came into the room and sat down; she said that the music was lovely. I said that the Gould would really impress her. After a couple of minutes of Gould, she told me that he sounded pompous and loud. Who are you going to believe - her or me?
The Sarabande is a thoroughly gorgeous movement of elegance, tenderness, urgency, and reflection. But, I still prefer this music to have ceremonial and heroic elements. As with the Aria, Goode eschews those elements but does provide another beautiful interpretation. Schepkin and Hewitt are mighty fine also as they gets into ceremony to a degree and provide heart-felt performances. Kahane is also excellent with a quick pace and a great feel for the music's urgency. Tureck delivers one of the most tender and probing performances, although it is hampered by the piano sound which is too recessed in softer passages.
Leonhardt gets mid-way to the heart of the music's ceremony and heroism. His performance is also a gorgeous one with exquisite elegance and tenderness. Pinnock delivers a "role-model" performance; eveything is right and the harpsichord sounds delightful. He's much less "dark" than Leonhardt.
Gould's Sarabande is in a class of its own. The ceremony and heroism are "constants". The amazing aspect of this reading is that elegance, tenderness, urgency, and reflection are also in abundance. This is recorded proof that Gould is an artist of the highest order.
A short menuet which combines duple and triple rhythms is next, and Schepkin polishes it off in only 46 seconds. He's very quick and quirky, sounding unmusical at times. Goode is much better, slower, highly poetic/lyrical, and soft-spoken. Kahane projects more strongly than Goode, and provides a little pomp and ceremony; both readings are very good. Tureck's tempo is quite slow; she's highly lyrical with excellent counterpoint. Leonhardt adds much ceremony and heroism to the music, but the sound is a little harsh; Pinnock's performance is similar - but with slightly better sound and less attractive pacing. Hewitt is also highly ceremonial with an excellent reading. Gould, this time, overdoes the ceremony aspect and gives someunattractive staccato passages and note banging; He and Schepkin are not very pleasureable listening experiences. The other six versions are rewarding.
Partita No. 4's Gigue is the time to crank up the volume to listen to one of Bach's most powerful and exciting keyboard pieces. Power, projection, and pacing can provide an excellent performance; all eight versions deliver the essentials. But two, Pinnock and Kahane, also display the music's perpetual motion; I'm awash in exciting sounds.
Summary for Partita No. 4:
These eight versions are of high quality. I have Schepkin at the bottom, but his performances have much to offer. Even better are Hewitt, Leonhardt, Goode, and Kahane. Concerning Leonhardt, this is the first partita where he's not the best in the survey.
Pinnock and Tureck are at a higher level, but it's Gould who's on top. Although he falls off a little in the Menuet and the Gigue, he is close to perfect in the first five movements. His sense of ceremony and heroism are just what appeal to me most about this partita. The version which is most opposite to Gould's is from Goode who is much softer and gentler.
Concerning the five full sets up to this point, much of Leonhardt's advantage over Pinnock and Tureck was erased with the 4th Partita. There's a wealth of magic in the work, and Leonhardt found little of it. Hewitt is currently some distance back, and Schepkin is way back. Regardless, I wouldn't part with his set; it's quite good.