Brought together on this unique double album are Ashkenazy’s latest Bach recording of English Suites 1-3 and his first-ever Bach recording from 1965, the Concerto in D minor. An astonishing 56 years and a lifetime’s experience of this timeless music span the two recordings, marking the longest exclusive association between pianist and record label in history.
This new recording of the first three English Suites is the latest addition to Ashkenazy’s discography of the major keyboard works of JS Bach.
Back in 2004 he began with ‘The 48’ (the 48 Preludes & Fugues of ‘The Well-Tempered Clavier’) and this was immediately greeted with critical acclaim: “The pianist’s straightforward, intelligent, and vibrantly clear interpretations are a joy to hear”, wrote Classics Today, going on to say “He eschews Glenn Gould’s idiosyncrasies of tempo and phrasing, and proves more stylish than older, erstwhile Russian colleagues like Nikolayeva and Richter.” Gramophone added: “you will surely return to Ashkenazy for his unfailing lucidity and musicianship.”
Subsequent releases included the Italian Concerto and the complete French Suites and Six Partitas, of which the Washington Post wrote: “a feast for the ears. These are poised, elegant readings”.
Coupled with the English Suites is Ashkenazy’s first-ever Bach recording from 1965. Having triumphed at the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1962 he became an overnight household name and signed exclusively with Decca the following year. He immediately became associated with the Russian repertoire and his first releases included concertos by Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky. So it was a bold move for Decca to then propose a Bach keyboard concerto in a classic Kingsway Hall recording, produced by Erik Smith and engineered by Kenneth ‘Wilkie’ Wilkinson. This was the start of a lifelong journey with Bach’s music and a composer he perhaps reveres above all others: “Next to Bach I am nothing”.
“Ashkenazy, playing a standard grand piano, is a no-nonsense interpreter. Performances are crisp and clear, never sentimentalised, and capture the freshness of the music as if it he has found a new love.”
Financial Times on the Italian Concerto