J.S. Bach is quoted to have said: “All you have to do is to strike the right keys at the right time and the music will play itself.” This statement needs to be understood in historical context. Whoever was “striking the keys” 300 years ago was likely to be a professional, often born into a family of musicians like Bach himself and educated in the art of counterpoint and harmony – the meaning of music.
Nowadays, keyboards are played by all kinds of people. Telling the difference between the right and the wrong keys is usually not a problem but playing at the “right time” is more difficult, especially if we include the tempo in our definition of “time.” Not only is individual perception of speed subjective and variable but our pace of living is exponentially faster now then it was in the 18th century. Can the details and layers of meaning in Bach’s language be duly appreciated at this new pace? That is something for us to consider.
Bach published the six keyboard Partitas himself in 1731 as his “Opus 1,” clearly indicating that he was satisfied with his work. And he probably had very high standards. Were they intended to be playedasaset?Consideringtheirdifficulty and length, probably not. Besides, most of Bach’s solo instrumental cycles were primarily intended as “practice pieces.” Yet sometimes one encounters a performance
of all six Partitas in recital, despite the demand this places on the audience’s attention span and keyboardist’s powers of concentration alike. I have played as many as four of them together in recital myself and even that may have been too rich an offering for many in the audience.
Of course, the advent of music recording in the 20th century (would the Goldberg Variations be so immensely popular if Glenn Gould hadn’t decided to record them twice?) and of digital music streaming in the 21st century has completely changed the way people perceive music. Wrong notes are eliminated in recorded music, a practice which engenders similar expectations at concerts, raising the stakes and the nervous strain for performers.
The pastime of listening to music no longer demands our exclusive attention. Current streaming trends “conveniently” split up Classical works and then assign sections to playlists for various designated lifestyle activities. We can now choose to hear just one Partita while working, two or three movements on the way to a grocery store or even stream the same dance over and over again while exercising. As technology advances, the compact disc recording format is well past its heyday, but its allotted play time still constrains our choices of grouping and interpreting longer cycles of music, as does our accepted “after dinner” live recital length. When presented in its entirety, whether recorded or played live, Bach’s “Opus 1” ends up cramped by our habitual listening mediums.… Continue Reading
“Bindman’s very special ability to breathe life into the musical events and to give every theme, every figure a shape, even a human profile, also characterizes the fast dances, which never slip into mere motor skills, but are lived through emotionally, are intelligently thought out and logically completed. In this way she lends a fascinating stringency and inner tension even to the slow-motion sarabands, directed inward, so that Bach’s deep spirituality can also be felt here, while in the fast gigue and courante movements she conveys Bach’s life energy with impressive, pedal-free precision and instantaneous drive conjures: There are timeless signals from the galaxy, and everything grooves and swings as if they were messages from today: a fascinating album.” —Attila Csampai, Rondo
“what a marvelous Bach performer… The prelude from Partita 1 is deliciously slow and expressive, with unexpected marking of inner voices, beautiful ornamentation, shimmering tone.… There’s not a bad movement in the bunch, so I will list a few of my favorites: first of all, I love the thoughtful and poised allemandes; I used to think of them the same way until my harpsichord teacher Arthur Haas convinced me that the one from Partita 6 should be played like a rather quick Italian Allemanda. Maybe so, but Bindman’s slower account is pulling me back in the other direction.… The gigue from Partita 5 is likewise graceful, the interaction among the three voices beautifully controlled and radiant.” —Rob Haskins, American Record Guide
“Suitably humbled by the inexhaustible greatness of Bach, I can say that…I have listened to these recordings a lot. With long stretches of music such as the complete Partitas, it helps to have a personable guide and Bindman is certainly that. … Bindman exhibits a real and suitably Baroque sense of the theatrical which makes the opening Sinfonia of this second partita a treat.… An unalloyed pleasure of this set is the lovely Bösendorfer piano used and how well it is recorded. More than that, Bindman’s recreative imagination is clearly stimulated by the different timbres possible from her piano.… The G major partita shows her qualities in the best light. A gentle pulse runs through every movement with just the right amount of formal swagger balanced with a dry, understated wit. This is the kind of recording I would play to people who think Bach too severe. It doesn’t short change his genius but illuminates it with joy and, above all, affection… More than two and half hours in Bindman’s genial company fly by most pleasurably.” —David McDade, MusicWeb International
“If I had to describe these performances in a single word, that word would be “affectionate.” Bindman clearly loves this music, and she plays it caressingly, as a lover would. … I’d like to point to the aforementioned Sarabande from Partita No. 3, which, under Bindman’s fingers, becomes an absolutely hypnotizing and eloquently grave meditation on the expressive power of 16th-note triplets. This is why we listen to new recordings of music we love—to shine a light on it of which we had not previously been aware.… This release excited my admiration from the moment I started playing it, and that attention has not waned over the course of more than a week. This could be on my Want List at the end of the year.” —Raymond Tuttle, Fanfare Magazine
“Eleonor Bindman's strong and assertive fingerwork complements her firmly centred rhythm… subtle momentum informs Bindman's gravitas, while…intimately unfolding conversational lightness” —Jed Distler, Gramophone
“Bindman’s approach, very sensibly, is to let this amazing music speak for itself. Opting for unhurried tempi, she approaches the dance movements with poise, her playing throughout the cycle an object lesson in perfectly balanced voicing and articulation. …In my review of her last Bach recording I hailed Bindman as delivering, ‘Bach playing of the highest order.’ With these model interpretations she does so again here… these intimately recorded and musically convincing performances strike just the right balance between familiarity and revelation. A superb release.” —Andrew Eales, PianoDao
“Listening to the recording, I was immediately impressed by Bindman’s relaxed tempos, and the unhurried pace of her interpretation… In Bindman’s recording, ornamentations become what they should be, an emotional emphasis of the moment. And that is certainly the case in her creative treatment of repeats, when the first sounding is simplified while the repeat presents the richly embellished original.” —Hermione Lai, Interlude
“Eleonor Bindman continues to impress with every new display of her keyboard artistry. …her complete survey of the Bach Partitas, BWV 825-830, proves the clincher: [she] can do anything! …Bach’s keyboard fingerings, difficult to master on the modern piano, hold no mystery for Bindman. It is a measure of this artist’s combined scholarship and keyboard prowess that we can’t tell where the composer leaves off and the performing artist takes over. Really, this is as fine a survey of the Partitas as I’ve ever been privileged to hear. I am pleased to recommend it.” —Phil Muse, Atlanta Audio Club