Wolfgang Rübsam Revisits Bach’s French Suites

J.S. Bach: French Suites BWV812-817

Wolfgang Rübsam Revisits Bach’s French Suites

Review by: Jed Distler

Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 8


When Wolfgang Rübsam departed from his favored organ and harpsichord in the early 1990s to record Bach’s French Suites on the piano, the results were rather stiff and colorless. Happily, he redeems himself with a splendid new recording of the Suites, this time on a lute harpsichord. If you don’t know what a lute harpsichord is, simply imagine the plucked and strummed sounds of a lute generated by a keyboard. Or think about the clavichord’s intimate sonority minus that instrument’s capacity for vibrato. At any rate, this instrument’s unique sound world suits the French Suites wonderfully well.

In contrast to the vigor and majesty of his superb Bach organ interpretations, Rübsam plays down the French Suites’ dance orientation, opting instead for metric leeway and liberal embellishments. Yet Rübsam’s rubato never falls into predictable patterns or mannered gestures; a speech-like aesthetic informs each and every agogic stress, breath pause, and accent.

Take the subtle fluctuations in the Lute Suite’s famous Bourée, or the sophisticated finger legato articulation in the E-flat Suite’s Allemande, and you’ll readily hear for yourself. Note how Rübsam imbues the upbeats in the G major and B minor Courantes with a sense of uplift that leads easily into the following measures. Nor does Rübsam overthink the C minor Gigue’s dotted rhythms, which he shapes with minute variations in touch and timing, as if he were improvising the music on the spot. The close-up and bright sonics could use more ambient resonance, but these lovely performances memorably showcase Rübsam’s sensitive and poetic side. Recommended.