Bach | Bartók – Piano Suites

It took Julien Libeer’s unfailing intuition, and his in-depth knowledge of piano repertoire, to attempt the linkage highlighted by this recording. Granted, in Bach we observe a brilliant master of all manner of keyboards: organ, harpsichord, clavichord, and in Bartók we hear an extraordinary pianist of great impact. But what do the two have to do with one another?

Beyond their lifelong interest in keyboard instruments of all types (organ, harpsichord, and clavichord in the case of Bach; modern piano as a percussion instrument in the case of Bartók), other shared concerns connect these two giants of classical music who at first glance appear to be polar opposites.

The juxtaposition of the two composers is not the least appeal of this album which also marks Julien Libeer’s first project for harmonia mundi: this ardent advocate of a clear and direct approach deftly combines keen intuition with a sense of formal rigour to bring four masterful examples of the ‘suite’ genre into a dialogue spanning across the centuries that set them apart.

– From booklet notes by Lucien Noullez, translated by Michael Sklansky

‘The juxtaposition seems to make perfect sense, the dance rhythms and melodies emerging with real clarity. Libeer plays both composers with obvious affection, teasing out the counterpoint of Bach and the churning rhythmic energy of Bartok’s Out of Doors, which comes as a pungent rejoinder to the end of Bach’s fifth French suite.’

— BBC, Radio 3 Record Review

‘Libeer lets Bach’s Fifth French Suite and Second Partita flow transparently through a rocky bed. Bartók’s Out of Doors and Opus 16 also remain clear, but are more reminiscent of the black reflection of a deep mountain lake. The pianist shows that Bartók lived in a time when people were looking for a new grip, for an alternative to the God and order of Bach. That makes you think. Beautiful.’

— NRC