Lebrecht Weekly – J. S. Bach: The complete keyboard works (Erato)

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Amid the seasonal rock fall of weird-shaped box sets and unopenable recorded turkeys, one project stands out as indispensable in both musical and moral dimensions.

In 1965, a little-known harpsichordist began recording the Bach keyboard works for a niche French label. By the time she finished ten years later, Zuzana Ruzickova and Erato had received every French record award, wresting harpsichord Bach away from deadhand American academics back to a middle-European vivacity. Ruzickova, resisting celebrity, Communism and the temptations of the music world, taught the next three generations of leading harpsichordists from her home in Prague.

A survivor of four Nazi concentration camps she brought – and still brings – a moral imperative to the act of playing, no note without meaning, no performance without perspective. Her Bach edifice has now been reissued by Erato on 20 CDs ahead of her 90th birthday in January 2017 and further critical analysis is superfluous. Play any disc and you will hear the living Bach, the fount of hope in dark times.

Where to begin? Start at the last disc with the concerto for flute (Jean-Pierre Rampal), violin (Josef Suk) and string orchestra (Prague Soloists), all playing to Ruzickova’s organic and often mischievous rhythm. This, and the succeeding Brandenburg concerto, is music that never loses its smile even as a tear trickles down one cheek. The artist at the keyboard is an immutable presence.


—Norman Lebrecht

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About Author

Norman Lebrecht is a prolific writer on music and cultural affairs. His blog, Slipped Disc, is one of the most popular sites for cultural news. He presents The Lebrecht Interview on BBC Radio 3 and is a contributor to several publications, including the Wall Street Journal and The Standpoint. Visit every Friday for his weekly CD review // Norman Lebrecht est un rédacteur prolifique couvrant les événements musicaux et Slipped Disc, est un des plus populaires sites de nouvelles culturelles. Il anime The Lebrecht Interview sur la BBC Radio 3 et collabore à plusieurs publications, dont The Wall Street Journal et The Standpoint. Vous pouvez lire ses critiques de disques chaque vendredi.

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