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Partitas BWV 825-830

Christopher Szaja Sager (Piano)

Review: Partitas by Sager

1

The Six Partitas

Partita no. 1 in B flat major, BWV 825
Partita no. 5 in G major, BWV 829
Partita no. 6 in E minor, BWV 830

Partita no. 2 in C minor, BWV 826
Partita no. 3 in A minor, BWV 827
Partita no. 4 in D major, BWV 828

Christopher Czaja Sager (piano)

Hänssler

July 1993

2-CD / 136:09

Kirk McElhearn wrote (March 8, 2002):
Bach’s keyboard partitas were his first published works, his opus 1. These six suites were actually the last suites Bach wrote for keyboard, and owe a great deal to French influence. These are relatively popular works, and have been recorded by most of the world’s leading pianists. Christopher Czaja Sager gives an interesting reading of these works, and, unlike most pianists, gives the partitas an additional level of colour by playing them on three different pianos.

Sager plays the first partita at a relatively slow tempo, similar to Wolfgang Rubsam¹s interpretation on Naxos. This approach is quite enjoyable to some, since it brings out totally different elements of the music than when it is played at a faster tempo as most performers do. Sager’s choice of a Yamaha piano gives this, and the third, fifth and sixth partitas, an interesting sound. Less resonant than the more common Steinway, this piano has an attractive tone that fits will with some of the more lively movements.

Sager plays the sixth partita in a similar fashion - the opening toccata is slow and sinuous, and he gives it a more improvisatory sound than many other pianists. His overall performance of this partita is excellent; his playing truly blossoms in this idiom.

The second partita benefits from a fine-sounding Bösendorfer piano, with even less resonance than the Yamaha. This piano is more compact both in size (2 metres, compared to 2.74 and 2.74 for the others), and sound. Sager plays this partita much faster than the others, and exudes less conviction. The allemande is very attractive, but the faster movements, such as the final capriccio, sound a bit too inflexible.

The main problem with this set is that Sager takes a very uneven approach to the partitas. While each individual work is coherent, there is not overall vision. His differences in tempi - from the relatively slow first partita to the fairly rapid fourth - show that he does not see this a set of works, but rather as a group of individual, unrelated suites. Some of the partitas are excellent, others just good. This is a set worth discovering, especially at its budget price, but the listener should not expect to appreciate all of the works in the same way.


Feedback to the above Review

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 8, 2002):

< Kirk McElhearn wrote: The main problem with this set is that Sager takes a very uneven approach to the partitas. While each individual work is coherent, there is not overall vision. His differences in tempi - from the relatively slow first partita to the fairly rapid fourth - show that he does not see this a set of works, but rather as a group of individual, unrelated suites. Some of the partitas are excellent, others just good. This is a set worth discovering, especially at its budget price, but the listener should not expect to appreciate all of the works in the same way. >
Well...Bach did publish the six keyboard partitas as six separate books first, before collecting them into one. It was a serial.

#1 fall 1726
#2 Easter 1727
#3 Michaelmas 1727
#4 1728
#5 1730
#6 1730
Then all six together in one book in 1731.

Starting with #2 and #3 they were available not only directly from Bach, but also from half a dozen other respected musicians (including Georg Boehm) working on commission.

As I've mentioned here some other time, the book of all six cost as much as a harpsichord. Sale of that one was by an established book dealer in Leipzig, the Boetius bookshop.

Christoph Wolff has a thorough sub-chapter about this in Bach: Essays on his Life and Music.

I don't know if Bach ever did in-shop appearances, but just imagine the publicity: "This Saturday, Boethius Books and Music, Leipzig: the esteemed capellmeister Sebastian Bach will play selections from and sign copies of his new collection. Exclusive! 1:00 to 6:00 p.m. Complimentary coffee available."

Kirk McElhearn wrote (March 8, 2002):

< Bradley Lehman wrote: Well...Bach did publish the six keyboard partitas as six separate books first, before collecting them into one. It was a serial. >
Good point. Do you think that a performer should not, therefore, have a coherent overall vision for the set?

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 8, 2002):

< Kirk McElhearn commented: While each individual work is coherent, there is not overall vision. His differences in tempi - from the relatively slow first partita to the fairly rapid fourth - show that he does not see this a set of works, but rather as a group of individual, unrelated suites. >
Richard D.P. Jones has an interesting article in the Oxford Composer Companions: J.S.Bach, {Boyd} pp. 357-8. Jones published his own edition of the Clavier-Übung I, but also edited the NBA V/1 volume that includes the intriguing statement in a Leipzig newspaper, dated May 1, 1730:

Da nunmehro die fünffte Svite der Bachischen Clavier-Übung fertig, und mit denen annoch restirenden zweyen letztern künfftige Michaelis-Messe das gantze Wercklein zu Ende kommen wird, als wird solches denen Liebhabern des Clavieres wissend gemacht. [Bach-Dokumente II, 276]

Herewith is given notice to all those who cherish keyboard instruments [not organ, of course!] that, since the 5th partita [‘Suite’ is still used here to refer to partitas] of Bach’s ‚Clavier-Übung’ has already been published and is available, the final two remaining partitas which will complete the set as a unit will appear at the Michaelmas Book Fair in the future.

Jones also explains that, using Kuhnau as a model, Bach was following the plan of covering the steps of an ascending diatonic scale. Bb,c,a,D,G,e,F [the lower case letters designate a minor key, the upper a major key.]

So Bach did envisage a “Gesamtkonzeption der Klavierübung“ [a unifying conception for these ‚practice’ pieces for the keyboard].

Bach’s model was Kuhnau’s publication of similar partitas (called ‘Partien’) published in two parts in 1689 and 1692. Jones points out that Bach begins with Bb major (which would have been the next key in sequence where Kuhnau had left off) and mixes major and minor keys, rather than separating them as Kuhnau did into the major and minor categories in the two volumes that he had published.

Why did Bach not compose the last partita in F major? Jones thinks that the Italian Concerto may have included elements of this missing partita.

It appears that Bach did have a grand conception in mind for all the partitas, despite the fact that they were issued piecemeal over a number of years. Subscriptions to a series of music publications were very much in vogue at that time. Consider how Telemann was cranking out many compositions on a subscription basis.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 9, 2002):

<< Kirk commented: While each individual work is coherent, there is not overall vision. His differences in tempi - from the relatively slow first partita to the fairly rapid fourth - show that he does not see this a set of works, but rather as a group of individual, unrelated suites. >>
< Thomas Braatz wrote: It appears that Bach did have a grand conception in mind for all the partitas, despite the fact that they were issued piecemeal over a number of years. Subscriptions to a series of music publications were very much in vogue at that
time. Consider how Telemann was cranking out many compositions on a subscription basis. >

Of course. I guess the main point I was trying to make was that the partitas are of vastly different character from one another, and I consider it a virtue if the performer doesn't sound like the same person in all of them. A healthy balance between coherence and diversity.

If the performer sounds the same in all of them, it just gives the impression the performer has no expressive ra...or maybe not much independent thought.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (March 9, 2002):

[To Bradley Lehman] OK. Maybe you will like this recording.

This said, when tempi are concerned, it does sound strange when one partita is played very slowly (in relation to the norm) and another fast.


Partitas BWV 825 830: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Partitas – Anderszewski [McElhearn] | Partitas – Anderszewski [Satz] | Partitas – Corolan & Kipnis | Partitas – Feller 1 | Partitas – Parmentier | Partitas – Rangell | GV & Partitas – Karl Richter | Partitas – Roberts | Partitas – Sager | Partitas – Steuerman | Partitas - Suzuki | Partitas – Troeger | Partitas – Verlet | Partitas - Weiss

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Last update: ýAugust 17, 2003 ý07:32:25