CD review: Richard Egarr plays Bach’s French Suites

First published in the Guardian on 2 June, 2016

Bach: The French Suites
Richard Egarr (Harmonia Mundi)

Harpsichordist Richard Egarr makes the point that if the French Suites are less popular than Bach’s other keyboard music, that’s possibly because they’re underestimated as more domestic, less grand and generally less showy-offy. “Recorded performances often omit many repeats in order to squeeze them onto a single disc,” he tuts. Whereas he definitely gives us the full two discs — we even get three extra versions of the Courante from the Second Suite (Bach couldn’t decide on an ending) — and all with that Egarrian expressive heft that is anything but domestic. He digs into his harpsichord, which is a huge-sounding modern Dutch instrument, and produces dark, nutty tones with chunky middle voices and gnarly chordal textures. He adds embellishments all over the place and his rhythms are spiky and erratic. The playing is not dainty and it’s not polite, with bullish Gigues and a Loure in the Fifth Suite that sounds downright petulant, but all that makes the warmth and lyricism of the Allemandes and Sarabandes doubly affecting when they come.