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Partitas BWV 825-830

Andrew Rangell (Piano)

Bach’s Partitas for Keynoard from Andrew Rangell


J.S. Bach: The Six Partitas for Keyboard

Partitas BWV 825-830 [18:20, 22:37, 18:18, 27:38, 19:28, 31:49]

Andrew Rangell (Piano) [Hamburg Steinway (Model D)]

Dorian Recordings

Jun 2000

2-CD / TT: 138:38

Recorded at Gardner Museum, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.
Buy this album at:

Donald Satz wrote (November 25, 2001):
Comparative Version: Bernard Roberts - Nimbus 2000

Summary Rating: B+

Andrew Rangell was born in Chicago in 1948 and rasied in Colorado. He graduated from Julliard with a doctorate degree in piano. Concerning recordings, Rangell has primarily been a 'Dorian man" with six discs under his belt. He has recorded Bach's Goldberg Variations, two volumes of Beethoven piano sonatas, Beethoven's Diabelli Variations, and two volumes titled "A Recital of Intimate Works". I should add that the liner notes also refer to Rangell's intimate approach to making music - more on Rangell's intimacy a little later. Reviews of his discs have tended to be lukewarm.

I decided to use the Bernard Roberts set for an overall comparison. It's particularly appropriate as it was recently issued and is priced as one premium disc; the same pricing applies to the new Rangell set. In my review of the Roberts set, my recommendation was a qualified one; Roberts is always tasteful and tuneful, but his approach is on the light side and perhaps more rewarding while travelling down the highway with some degree of concentration on not getting wrapped around a tree.

Comparing Roberts with Rangell reveals strong differences. With Roberts, the spectrum of tempos, interpretative decisions, and emotional themes are narrow. It's as if he read the scores for a few hours and told his support crew - "I'm ready to roll". In contrast, Rangell is very slow in the slower movements and quite fast in the faster ones; he relishes hitting the outer boundaries. Rangell often uses hesitations and other devices to highlight various passages and motifs that he finds particularly illuminating. It is clear to this listener than Rangell has thought long and hard about how best to interpret and present these six Bach works. His rhythmic variety is much greater than what Roberts provides. To put it simply, Roberts entertains while Rangell explores.

I also did the vehicle test. Can all that is provided by the performer be assimilated and fully appreciated while driving? In the case of Roberts, the answer is a clear 'yes'; with Rangell, I couldn't get close to taking in the full range of Rangell's performances. Rangell has more to offer and reminds me of the superb Rubsam performances on Naxos; both provide a fine mix of the emotional and cerebral with a strong feel of improvisation.

However, all is not in green pastures. Rangell has a preference for intimacy which can get in the way of providing the excitement and muscle which some of the movements cry out for. Also, there are times when he bypasses the intimate approach when the music lends itself very well to it. In comparisions with other versions besides Roberts, Rangell does not stand tall with the best. Overall, the set is a keeper but with some reservations.

Here are some highlights of the Rangell set:

Partita No. 1 BWV 825 - The combination of improvisation, thought, and emotional depth comes to the forefront in Rangell's Praeludium and the Sarabande. Performed very slowly, both readings are gorgeous, and I always have the sense that Rangell is deciding how to play as he goes along. His Allemande has effective hesitations and tempo variations in a moderately staccato performance; he also provides plenty of angularity, muscle, and tenderness. Rangell's Courante, Menuet series, and Gigue are joyous excursions. My sole reservation is a little use of the highest register in Menuet II; the sound becomes slightly glassy. Overall, I am very impressed with Rangell's B flat major.

Partita No. 2 BWV 826 - My euphoria from Rangell's B flat major fades some in the C minor. A pattern is emerging of exceptional readings of the slower movements of the partitas which are introverted and quite intimate; the other side is that Rangell never generates a high degree of excitement in the faster movements in the manner of Gould or Karl Richter. An example of all this is provided by Rangell's treatment of the slow middle section and the concluding fugue of the Sinfonia. His middle section is wonderfully thoughtful and tense, but the fugue is far off from providing the full measure of the excitement that's inherent in the music. Rangell is not performing at a low level; it's just that he is much more in sync with Bach's introspective side.

Partita No. 3 BWV 827 - I mentioned that Rangell and Rubsam share some similarities; they also have differences concerning wisdom of decisions. The A minor Partita presents a couple of examples. Rubsam takes the Fantasia, slows it way down, and molds it into his strength of probing introspection. Rangell has the same strength, but he plays the Fantasia for speed and excitement without much success. Rubsam's Sarabande is slow and gorgeous; inexplicably, Rangell is quick and loses his powers of conveying emotional depth. Overall, Rangell's A minor is not very rewarding as he bypasses the opportunities to display his particular strengths as a Bach performing artist.

Partita No. 4 BWV 828 - From where I sit, the D major has to be a good one for any set to rank highly; I feel it has the most inspiring and ceremonial music of the six partitas and an Allemande which is one of Bach's greatest creations. The Gould version has long been my standard with the incredible heroism he injects in every movement.

How does Rangell fare in the 'BIG TEST'? Quite well, particularly in the Aria, Menuet, and Gigue; I love his intensity in the Gigue's second section. I would have liked more excitement in the Overture, and the Allemande could have benefited from some 'oomph' from time to time to enhance contrast. My main reservation about Rangell's Allemande concerns 'breadth', a feature which the Allemande well absorbs and is one of Rangell's strengths as a Bach performer. In essence, Rangell does not observe the repeat of the first section, thereby passing up another opportunity to display his considerable musical gifts. The odd thing about it is that Rangell generally observes the repeats in the Partitas; he certainly picks the worst time to omit one. So, we have a very good performance of this D major Parita dampened some by no repeat in the Allemande and a little deficiency of muscle.

Partita No. 5 BWV 829 - Rosalyn Tureck's version on Philips is an excellent one for comparison with Rangell. Actually, Rangell holds his own through his Sarabande which is gorgeous and introspective. However, the last three movements belong to Tureck. Her Tempo di minuetto has a mesmerizing build-up and release of energy; Rangell is too concerned with distinctive rhythms to see the forest for the trees. In the powerful Gigue, Tureck's strength is amazing while Rangell continues to dwell in the weeds. He seems to get totally absorbed in detail. Also, I miss the aristocratic style that Tureck conveys so well.

For the Partita No. 6 in E minor BWV 830, I just listened solely to Rangell for enjoyment on its own basis. His Toccata is one of the slowest and more thought-provoking around. This piece covers a wide range of emotions, and Rangell conveys them very well. In the Allemande, Rangell is again on the slow side with plenty of vulnerability and urgency. The Air finds Rangell taking a staccato approach with perhaps a little too much force. The Sarabande gives Rangell the opportunity to indulge his introverted and intimate strengths; he fully delivers. In the Tempo di Gavotta, Rangell is appropriately playful but displays a rather strong atmosphere. I'm not very impressed with the conclGigue; it has severe counterpoint which Rangell doesn't detail with sufficient strength, and the 'dancing' quality of the music is absent. Overall, Rangell's E minor is a fine one not approaching the best versions.

Don's Conclusions: Comparisions with the sets from Bernard Roberts, Glenn Gould, Edward Parmentier, Gustav Leonhardt, Trevor Pinnock, Wolfgang Rubsam, Rosalyn Tureck, and Angela Hewitt are generally not kind to Andrew Rangell. He consistently surpasses Roberts, but that's not a huge accomplishment. I do enjoy Rangell's set as much as the Hewitt, but I have some conceptual differences with Hewitt which lead me to believe than most listeners would prefer Hewitt over Rangell.

Concerning my favorite sets (Gould, Rubsam, Tureck, Leonhardt, Pinnock), Rangell keeps coming up short. He's most similar to Rubsam in terms of slow tempos, expansive/cerebral readings, and a strong feel of improvisation and intimacy. It's just that Rubsam does it all better and always zeroes in on his strengths; Rangell occasionally abandons his strengths through some poor decision making.

Although Rangell does not compare very well to the best alternative sets, his readings are clearly enjoyable and often illuminating. I'd rate them at the level of Hewitt and as good or better than most other versions. They deserve full concentration as Rangell does not offer us a mainstream set of performances. I recommend the set with the reservations expressed; the price is certainly advantageous as well. Sound quality is fine, although there is a tendency for a little harshness when Rangell is demonstrative. The liner notes and details of each Partita are provided by Mr. Rangell; I find this preferable to a third party commentary which often doesn't align well with the approach of the performing artist. Cover art is enticing with a lily projected against a black background; it's quite stunning.


Feedback to the Review

Juozas Rimas wrote (November 25, 2001):
Donald Satz wrote:
< I also did the vehicle test. Can all that is provided by the performer be assimilated and fully appreciated while driving? >
Now this is an interesting test :)

However, I never listen to classical music in the car because this doesn't make any point to me - the music is meant to be listened attentively. If you take at least half of the attention from the traffic and direct to the music, you are a dangerous driver :D

So I've reserved the car audio for some bumpy techno background or, even better, no music at all, just the sound of the engine and the street - much safer.


Partitas BWV 825 830:
Comparative Review:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6
Reviews of Individual Recordings:
Partitas - P. Anderszewski [McElhearn] | Partitas - P. Anderszewski [Satz] | Partitas - L. Corolan & I. Kipnis | Partitas - E. Feller 1 | Partitas - E. Parmentier | Partitas - A. Rangell | GV & Partitas - K. Richter | Partitas - B. Roberts | Partitas - S. Ross | Partitas - S. Sager | Partitas - C. Sheppard | Partitas - J.L. Steuerman | Partitas - M. Suzuki [McElhearn] | Partitas - M. Suzuki [Henderson] | Partitas - C. Tiberghien | Partitas - R. Troeger | Partitas - B. Verlet | Partitas - K. Weiss | Rübsam - Part 2 | Rübsam - Part 3

Andrew Rangell: Short Biography | Recordings of Instrumental Works
Reviews of Instrumental Works:
Bach’s Partitas for Keynoard from Andrew Rangell

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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