Classical CD Reviews

BACH: Partita No. 2 in C Minor; Toccata in C Miunor; Partita No. 6 in E Minor – David Fray, p. – Virgin Classics

Solid technique and exuberant temperament complement each other in Fray's new realization of Bach's challenging partitas and virtuoso toccata.

Published on December 12, 2012

BACH: Partita No. 2 in C Minor; Toccata in C Miunor; Partita No. 6 in E Minor – David Fray, p. – Virgin Classics

BACH: Partita No. 2 in C Minor, BWV 826; Toccata in C Minor, BWV 911; Partita No. 6 in E Minor, BWV 830 – David Fray, piano – Virgin Classics 50999 070944 2, 65:32 [Distr. by EMI Classics] ****:

French pianist David Fray (b. 1981) extends his recorded repertory in Bach with this latest disc (rec. 24-26 September 2012) with a healthy portion from Bach’s Leipzig-period Clavier-Uebung, or “keyboard exercise” designed, in the composer’s words, “to refresh the spirits of music lovers.” Fray’s style, a combination of intellectual concentration and natural exuberance, has been likened to that of the late Glenn Gould, though Fray’s own hard, bright patina does not carry the sonority of the discrete notes to the pointillistic extreme Gould sought.

The C Minor Partita allows Fray to exert first, in the Sinfonia, his expressive powers in lofty, French-Overture style as well as in the chromatic layering required in toccata passages that take the form of a three-part invention. Fray applies a persuasive shapeliness to the Allemande, and many will sense a “romantic” allure in his melodic voicings.  The contrapuntal brio in the Courante has Fray’s singing along in throaty grumbles. The Sarabande, based on a stylized Spanish dance, here proceeds as staid duet, parlando, in a nostalgic mood.  The last two movements, Rondeau and Capriccio, respectively, enjoy a spirited articulation and bravura fluency, once again peppered with Fray’s gutturals. The breathless pace of the last movement does not prevent the bouncy joie de vivre from completely overtaking our buoyant feet in response to a fleet, spontaneous performance.

The Bach keyboard toccatas generally draw upon his Weimar experience, where Bach frequently wrote show pieces to demonstrate touch and stylistic variety. The C Minor Toccata opens with an organ figuration which soon translates into close imitation, fast and slow. Fray imparts a solemn dignity into the procession, until the fugue tune and its legato episodes recur in diverse guises to beguile us with ravishing flourishes and imaginative ornaments. The innate dance character of the idea never abandons Fray’s carnival of layered voices, and his uppermost register sings, a la musette, most sweetly, even if his throaty contribution does not.

The E Minor Partita, Bach’s most densely populated opus in the form, has Fray’s first sustaining an elongated Toccata of melancholy sweep and strict invention, his bass tones deeply resonant. Fray does well to maintain the vocal quality in Bach’s writing, aligning him with the master of instrumental piano song, Chopin. Convoluted chromatics mark the jagged Allemande, the tenor of which echoes the tragic nuance of the Passions. Violent syncopes and rapid bravura passages characterize the angular Courante, and we can hear Fray’s feet on the pedals. The “broken style” of the melodic curve reverberates with the French clavecinistes. No delay to the staccati of the Air, with its explosive accents. The heart of the matter, the huge Sarabande, distills the melodic element as a rarified recitative, Fray’s a deeply felt meditation in plastic colors, strummed as well as ‘spoken.” The inventively playful Tempo di Gavotta adds triplets to the formulaic balance of quarter notes. The final elborately wrought Gigue is a contrapuntal tour de force for Fray’s deft rhythmic and ornamental gifts. The furious, passing rocket-figures and voices in strict canon ring with fluent authority, courtesy of recording engineer Jean-Marc Laisne. Highly recommended for the connoisseur of the new Bach acolytes.

—Gary Lemco




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