These six beautifully balanced and delicate works are, if nothing else, an excellent introduction to Bach┐s extensive compositions for keyboard . . . Ashkenazy displays a superb lightness of touch that is often quite moving. This is sweetly apparent in his poetic playing of the Sarabande from the Partita No 1 in B flat major.
. . . the balance of formality and courtly danceability is held in perfect equilibrium by Ashkenazy.
His playing is intense, focused, almost austere. He delicately separates out the dizzying interwoven strands in the Allemande of No 1. He highlights the delicious syncopated rhythms in the Allemande of No 2. He unfolds the mysterious Sarabande of No 6 with unhurried elegance. And the perpetuum mobile of the Giga in No 1 has the clarity of cut glass. Ashkenazy refuses to seduce us with tonal opulence on this engrossing recording, yet that itself is a kind of seduction.
Especially in these spirited performances by pianist Ashkenazy, emphasizing the music's bravura elements: its blazing tempos, bold contrasts and pointed rhythms . . . there's no question he succeeds in conveying Bach at his most stylish.
The thrill of fresh discovery runs through this set, with some exciting movements -- like the last of Partita No 2 . . . the sarabandes are very intense and sustained . . .
Ashkenazy's dexterity is breathtaking. The bounding left hand of self-fulfilling sequences of the Capriccio and the breathless Gigue (No. 2) are thrilling . . . At the other extreme, Ashkenazy is intensely sensitive: the utter simplicity of the fourth Sarabande, and the introspective reverie of the fifth are heavenly . . . A fascinating opportunity for direct access to Bach . . .
He is one of those pianists who so often seems to me to sound just right. No gimmicks, the music just speaks as it should . . . Ashkenazy's innate musicality, impeccable taste and obvious love for these works permeate every bar.
. . . he shows a good deal of musical empathy. Phrases are shaped with expression and subtlety, the music is never allowed to falter, tempos are mostly brisk and businesslike, and the pianist is always ready to light the blue touch paper of devil-may-care virtuosity, as with the Gigue of the B flat major Partita, which is memorably whirled into a spectacular tour de force. One of the striking features of the recording is the sheer variety that Ashkenazy draws from the printed score. Each movement is characterised accordingly . . . Ashkenazy [is] so completely in command of the competing voices that there is never a feeling of overcrowding, or that the technical demands are dictating the shape of a movement. Rhythms are taut, played with astringency where necessary and there is no lack of emotional involvement . . . a worthy addition to any collection.
The playing is fleet and nimble . . . the piano textures are bright and translucent enough to bring out the contrapuntal intricacies of Bach's keyboard writing. At his best, as in the vivacious renditions of the concluding Gigues of the first and fourth Partitas, Ashkenazy brings a distinctive brand of high-spirited elegance to the proceedings. The slow movements, too, display a certain soulful eloquence.
[The set] continues to extend a virtually unbroken line of musical development by this fine virtuoso whose musical sympathies remain boundless. Throughout the individual dance pieces, we find a freshness and spontaneity of affect that resist formulaic approaches to these contributions to Bach's keyboard practice . . . [I find the Steinway piano reproduction itself] extremely genial, crisp without over-brightness and intrusive reverberation. The Allemandes from both the B-flat Major and C Minor Partita proceed with stately confidence, intimate and free. Ashkenazy's legato flows evenly without sentimentality . . . The quick imitations in the Courante of the C Minor prance in delicate colors, galant and limpidly articulate. The Rondeaux and Capriccio from the C Minor -- the only such designations in the entire set -- allies their unfettered spirit and performance to aspects of the English suites . . . The imposing Toccata of the E Minor Partita likely could stand on its own as a model for the Romantic articulation of noble concepts in keyboard practice. Ashkenazy projects its mazy chromatic motions without sag, the line taut and eminently expressive.