Murray Perahia recorded three of the Bach partitas a few years back after recovery from a hand injury -- Bach: Partitas Nos. 2-4 -- and now he's back to finish the set. Again this time, Perahia uses his trademark intelligence, style, technique and beauty of sound to create a recording that can stand with any extant recording of this music. Using the limpid fragility he portrays in Chopin and Mozart, Perhaia travels through Bach's magnificent creations in an almost dream-like trance, giving you Bach's notes, his humanity, and Perahia's singular approach that combine for memorable playing and memorable Bach.
Like he did a few years ago with Partitas 2, 3 and 4, Perhaia shows you Bach's imprint and counterpoint as only he can. While he doesn't portray the prestidigation of Glenn Gould Bach: Partitas Nos. 4, 5, 6 or the manic rush to judgment by the likes of Martha Argerich J.S. Bach: Toccata, Partita, English Suite 2/ Martha Argerich, he wallows in sound while he demonstrates the left hand-right hand counterpoint that all Bach players must master.
Not everyone will enjoy this and you probably know if you don't like this way with Bach. If unsure, listeners with an interest in more mercurial playing, greater reliance on technique, and stricter adherence to counterpoint may be better served elsewhere, either by Gould or in a newer recording from Seattle professor Craig Sheppard J.S. Bach: The Six Keyboard Partitas. Sheppard is a fine player and his recording has deservedly won plaudits everywhere.
However, Perahia is at least as accomplished a player as Sheppard, has consistently demonstrated powerhouse ability across a wider span of composers and styles, and the professor is not close to Perahia as a colorist, image-maker and sound technician. Where Sheppard's playing is perfect, he doesn't project the other possibilities in the scores, nor does he seem interested in portraying the humanity of J.S. Bach in his playing.
Bach was the most intellectual of all the great composers, sometimes composing music strictly as an intellectual exercise for himself (The Art of Fugue, among others) and many players only see this side of him in their music-making. But Bach was also a dogmatic Lutheran, a strict believer in the almighty, and the father of more than 20 children. He even spent a night in jail once in a dispute over music! These qualities grounded Johann Sebastian among the rest of us and made him more of an everyman than most great composers, who tend to stride atop Mt. Olympus. These humanistic qualities must also be available when realizing the art of J.S. Bach and they are on display from Perahia.
Even though I graded this five stars, I have heard other recordings of these three partitas that I find more convincing that offer perhaps greater longlasting enjoyment. For Partita 1, I'd recommend Dubravka Tomsic's fabulous concert on an inexpensive disk Bach: Italian Concerto; Partita BWV 825; Toccata BWV 912. For the Partita 5, I'd recommend Andras Schiff's first recording of the partita in 1984 Andás Schiff Plays Bach. For the titanic Partita 6, you should heard Elena Kuschnerova's concert Elena Kuschnerova.
Nevertheless, this is a magnificent recording of some of the greatest keyboard music on this planet. Every great pianist at some point should record one or more of Bach's partitas, which have rightly been compared to Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas for the way their traverse time, space, emotion and mental processes of the respective composers. Anyone putting out the incredibly low asking price for this recording will not be disappointed, in my opinion, even if Perahia's liquid tone and trance-like approach isn't your cup of tea.