Bach: Six French Suites for Piano
Cornerstone Festival at the
24th November 2013
On a dark and dreary Sunday afternoon a ray of sunshine descended on
The Capstone in the form of Joanna MacGregor. Inside, the accommodating
warmth and sense of occasion were much more welcoming than the seeping
cold outside, but all was not perfect.
A slight technical hitch delayed the start before the doors to the auditorium
opened to show a bare stage with just a piano at its centre. Onto the
platform then strode Hope University's own Professor of Performance, dazzlingly
sporting a lurex dress and loose-fitting jacket, her trousers tucked into
her knee length leather boots - everything was in black except for her
stunning beehive of a hairdo, echoing the russet colours of the Autumn
A short explanation was in order as to why the programme had been changed
from the advertised Goldberg Variations. She had badly damaged her hand
in a glass related accident and had been recovering whilst touring with
some itinerant jazz musicians. Today was to be the first test of the classical
canon for some time. Then, after imperiously asking for the air conditioning
unit behind her to be silenced, she was off.
If Bach's French Piano Suites are less arduous to play it did not show.
Of the six the first three are in the minor keys and the latter in the
majors. Each consists of a series of miniatures evoking dances of the
period - in order starting with an Allemande, Courante and Sarabande and
finishing with a Gigue. Bach composed all the pieces during 1722 to 1725.
In between the Sarabande and the Gigue he included further 'gallantries',
(also dance-based), for variation, innovation and effect.
Playing with fabulous style and joie de vivre, the mesmerising combinations
of sound brought out the qualities in the music, perhaps more reserved
before the interval, but with a warmth and wit afterwards. Her hands in
the keyboard mirror reflected her efforts to capture the timbre and tempo
required of each piece as she effortlessly lolloped along, at times moving
her head or mouthing sentiments to the notes cascading from the Steinway
- the artist and instrument complementing each other in sight as well
As Paul Tortelier famously said of Bach's Suites for Cello, 'This is
music that dances and sings'; and so it was here. By reaching beneath
the written score and into the depths of the work as a whole, a different
picture emerged; like when relaxing before the pages in those 'magic'
books of childhood, which reveal their 'hidden' images.
All too soon it was over. Joanna MacGregor was warmly applauded and presented
with a bouquet of flowers at the end of the recital. She will shortly
be off to Leipzig to perform in a Britten Centenary concert. How prescient
then to have her 1993 cd of today's work recorded at Snape Maltings on
sale, as a permanent reminder, of today's pyrotechnics and of the world
class performer herself.