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GRAMOPHONE ( 06/ 2019)
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Erato 9029550578

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Reviewer: Mark Seow

A decade on from Swing, Sing & Think – Bruno Monsaingeon’s film that follows David Fray recording Bach’s keyboard concertos, in which the French pianist asks the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen for ‘something more … [chuckles] … sensual’ (to their ambivalence, indeed dismissiveness) – I am glad that Fray is still swinging, singing and thinking. Indeed, I am elated he is still recording Bach. Fray is the star of this album. Duo partner Renaud Capuçon’s sound is velvety, sometimes tender. But, on the whole, it is overly charged with electricity: a default setting of extremely intense vibrato that is unsympathetic to phrasing and the piano’s temperament. This is particularly problematic in quick movements. Vibrato with doorbell shrillness, as in the Vivace from BWV1018, for example, worsens Capuçon’s already dubious intonation – something that considerably suffers in the first Allegro of BWV1016. This is all so frustrating when in the next movement, an Adagio ma non tanto, Fray and Capuçon turn a corner and deliver something stunning: haunting and heartfelt in beauty. This is Bach played as if the pair have only moments left to live; finite strength to say I love you, to breathe in your hair. It makes for glorious listening.

Fray’s commitment to articulating Bach’s mercurial patterns, surprising harmonic language and long phrases is wondrous. The specificity of each artistic decision, each placing, is delivered with honesty and intelligence. It is as if each of Fray’s fingertips has a tiny brain and pair of lungs of its own. The opening movement of the Sonata in G, BWV1019, gleams in moto perpetuo joy. The solo keyboard Allegro movement is capricious in light and shade. This is everything I hoped the sensual twenty-something of Swing, Sing & Think would grow into. What then is most sad is what Fray and Capuçon chose to exclude. Where is the Cantabile, ma un poco adagio from an earlier version of BWV1019 from Bach’s time in Cöthen? Patient waiting for a hidden track goes unrewarded here. Its absence, however, does mean one good thing: there is more Bach out there for Fray to record, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

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