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Johann Sebastian Bach: Inventions – Sinfonias – French Suite V
Till Fellner (piano)
Recorded in the Mozartsaal of the Konzerhaus, Vienna (July 2007) – 66’35
ECM New Series 2043 B00121789-02

Austrian pianist Till Fellner (born 1972) has been building a solid career since winning the Clara Haskil competition in 1993. His recording of Bach’s Well-tempered Clavier was issued in 2004 and earned him many positive reviews. This recording contains two other sets of didactic exercises that have come to be regarded as cherished pieces for public performance, the 15 Inventions (BWV 772-786) and the 15 Sinfonias (BWV 787-801). Rounding off the recording is the French Suite Number Five (BWV 816), more of a party piece, consisting of seven dance movements.

The Inventions are also known as the Two-part Inventions and the Sinfonias as the Three-part Inventions. Two rather vague musical terms are employed here: “sinfonia” and “part”. The sinfonias are not symphonies but are pieces for solo piano. “Parts” refer to musical lines, not movements or separate parts for another performer. Thus the two-part inventions are brief pieces each lasting from 46 seconds to almost five minutes, with a separate melodic part for each hand to play. The three-part inventions, equally brief, add a layer of complexity with the addition of a third melodic line for the soloist. They were meant as demonstration pieces for the budding performer/composer, in this case originally for Bach’s eldest son, Wilhelm Friedeman, who was 13 the year the works were published (1723).

Bach’s stated purpose for the inventions and sinfonias included “to cultivate a cantabile style of playing” and Till Fellner fully realizes this aim. One might suspect that listening to 30 short bits designed for young students would be a dry experience but no, there are shifting moods among the pieces and Fellner’s singing (“cantabile”) tone, with skillful shaping of the musical lines, carries the listening experience along. The booklet’s notes (translated from German) are a bit of a slog, but make the point of stressing how listening closely to these pieces can help us listen carefully to any music. Careful listening is certainly rewarded, but one can also just relax and enjoy the wonderful freshness the pianist accomplishes.

The disk was recorded in the Mozartsaal of Vienna’s Konzerthaus in July, 2007. It has a nice “real” acoustic to it: the sound is very clean, but also sounds like a real person on a real piano in a real room.

The suite is a delightful culmination for this disk. “The best of the French Suites” states Maurice Hinson in his Guide to the Pianist’s Repertoire. I won’t argue. The gavotte (fourth movement) is the quintessence of sparkly Bach.

This delightful disk is a perfect accompaniment to welcoming the sunny month of May - no matter what time of year.

Michael Johnson




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