J.S. BACH: KEYBOARD PARTITAS 1, 4 & 5
Johann Sebastian Bach
HASKELL SMALL, piano
"The notes proclaim pianist Haskell Small to be one of the more brilliant interpreters of Bach, and this disc certainly supports this. I am impressed by his fine sense of both style and phrasing, bringing out each devilishly difficult nuance with clarity and ease. His work brings a new meaning to these oft-performed partitas, and the fuller sound of the modern piano adds considerable depth that I daresay Bach would have found impressive. This is a disc of consummate skill, and while there are plenty of recordings on instruments of Bach’s time around, one should explore this one to see how these venerable works can be reinterpreted in new and meaningful ways."
Bertil van Boer, Fanfare [May/June 2022]
"I was often caught by Partita No.4...but there are many other moments in Small’s superb rendering that may also catch your mind and take you out of time into past emotions and beauty.... Purists and musical historians might prefer to hear this music on a period harpsichord, but Small’s steady headed, even tempo and keyboard command makes this listening experience an enjoyable respite of pleasure... the CD is an ample introduction those who have not heard [Small's] his talent as a performer..."
Joel C. Thompson, Cherry Grove Music Review [August 2021]
"[ * * * * ] Gorgeous renditions of this music, sans any idealistic encrustations... Haskell Small is clearly in love with this music; returning to it after many years has enlightened his sensibilities and enabled him to present us with a clear and undiluted portrait of a middle-aged composer who long found himself... These pieces speak like the earlier suites did not.
Small understands this, and not only understands but is ready and willing to serve as a Bachian oracle, channeling the composer’s most subtle and illuminating ideas as would a persuasive arguer... [Small's Blüthner], though grand indeed, is hardly overwhelming or dominating. Instead, [Small] allows us to peer into the art of one of the greatest composers who ever lived in terms of structure, sonority, color, and conversation, for we come away from these readings as if we had been lectured by a wonderful orator. There has been a plethora of recordings of this music, many truly great. I daresay that this one proves just as enlightening."
Steve Ritter, Audiophile Audition [August 2021]
"Small ‘s sensitivity to the nuances of the music helps compensate for the inappropriately modern sound of the instrument... [the playing is] always in good taste, with Small never overdoing matters... There are many very fine piano performances of these works, and this one certainly belongs among them."
Mark J. Estren, InfoDad [July 2021]
"...one can handle adroitly and thrive at performing Contemporary Modern piano music and it does not mean one could do quite the same with Bach. But Haskell Small's new CD shows us he has a wonderful feel for the Partitas, a sure pianistic sense of the ways to translate Bach's brilliance to piano performance practice... As much as I love the Partitas I must say Small's readings of Nos.1, 4 and 5 give me the more to love by a real pianistic sympathy born not out of a spectacular approach, rather a subtle one. You do not come away from the recording being impressed in the obvious sense with astonishment, with the velocity or other showmanship... Instead there is a total musicality about it all, a deep dedication to making this wonderful music sound."
Grego Applegate Edwards [June 2021]
"Bach was obliged to have these partitas printed at his own expense in 1731, but they soon gained him an enviable reputation. It came to be the common consensus that any keyboard artist who could understand them and play them well would be equal to anything in music. Today, almost three hundred years later, Haskell Small is living proof that the saying still goes."
Phil Muse, Atlanta Audio Club [April 2021]
There have been composers who absorbed everything they could find of their predecessors and contemporaries, often making diverse and unique rearrangements of the originals. Some composers when young visited aged mentors at some sacrifice and risk. Some were born of musical families and passed that knowledge and inspiration to their offspring. More than a few took older forms and retranslated them into something new. Some looked at instrumentation and the tonal nature of audio representation and made an evolutionary step in how we express music. Some were prolific in a vast variety of genres. A handful has produced tunes many can whistle, as well as universally acclaimed titanic masterpieces. A couple has had their music shot into space as a calling card for other civilizations that there may be in the vastness of the universe. But only one person is all of those things, and so much more, and that is Johann Sebastian Bach
Composer and pianist Haskell Small
has been praised for the exquisite blend of sound and silence in his compositions and for his prodigious technique and subtle touch at the keyboard. His discography of over a dozen recordings and his frequent national and international tours have firmly established Small’s stellar artistic reputation around the world. Highlights of Small’s international performance career include engagements at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center and Spoleto USA. His acclaimed artistry has spread further through his active YouTube channel and other videos, which have received millions of views. In addition to his online videos, Small was featured on the nationally-broadcast PBS special “A Celebration of the Piano.” Over the course of his career, Small’s contemplative nature has drawn him to music that seeks a spiritual quietude that approaches silence. His ongoing series of compositions, performances and recordings, “Journeys in Silence”, reflects this interest. Small regularly tours the United States, Europe and Japan, programming his own compositions as well as works by other composers that share this aesthetic, performing in monasteries, churches and galleries as well as more conventional concert venues. Small has received commissions from the Washington Ballet, Three Rivers Piano Competition, Georgetown Symphony and Paul Hill Chorale, among others. Small’s discography includes recordings of his own compositions as well as the Goldberg Variations by J.S. Bach, Musica Callada by Federico Mompou and Gershwin in Black and White (a collection of piano transcriptions) on the MSR, Naxos, Centaur and 4-Tay labels. Haskell Small received his musical training at the San Francisco Conservatory and Carnegie-Mellon University. He studied piano with Leon Fleisher and William Masselos, and composition with Vincent Persichetti and Ronald Leich. Currently he is faculty member and former Piano Department Chair of the Washington Conservatory of Music in Washington D.C., where he has taught since 1984. About the Bach recording, the American Record Guide noted that “The great assets of Small’s pianism – among them, unerring taste and clarity - serve the music very well.” Aside from being a top placing semifinalist in the J.S. Bach International Piano Competition, his return to performing and recording Bach with the Partitas for Keyboard marks another stage in the evolving life of a remarkable composer-performer. [ www.haskellsmall.com
JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH
KEYBOARD PARTITA NO.1 IN B-FLAT MAJOR, BWV 825
V. Menuets I & II
KEYBOARD PARTITA NO.4 IN D MAJOR, BWV 828
KEYBOARD PARTITA NO.5 IN G MAJOR, BWV 829
V. Tempo di Minuetto
Recorded May 2010 [7-13], July 2011 [1-6] and June 2012 [14-20] at the Westmoreland Congregational United Church of Christ, Bethesda, Maryland. Score reader: Tina Chancey. Recording engineer: Mark Huffmann. Editing engineer: Haskell Small. Mastering engineer: Charlie Pilzer, Tonal Park.
Piano: Bluthner concert grand | Courtesy of the Washington Conservatory of Music
BOOK OF HOURS
Piano Music by Haskell Small