Vladimir Ashkenazy: JS Bach: The 6 Partitas for Keyboard

On this beautifully focused two-CD set Vladimir Ashkenazy gives an exemplary performance.

An Ashkenazy recording is always an event, and in this beautifully focused two-CD set he reminds us why. His exemplary performance of the Six Partitas, each of six or seven movements, follows on from his recording of 48 Preludes and Fugues, from JS Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier. Here he assumes a lighter mood to suit the dance-form variations that each suite contains, from lively Gigues and Gavottes to the more intimate, sombre Sarabandes and Allemandes. Bach's endless invention and Ashkenazy's apparently instinctive approach to dynamics and articulation mean that even listening to the 42 pieces straight through is a stimulating experience, and a reminder of the exquisite balance of form and feeling that the composer achieves. Those who have yet to warm to the works of this composer should start at Partita No.6, in a brooding E minor, in which Ashkenazy contrasts a gently emotional rubato with the quiet tick-tock menace of relentless counterpoint to moving effect. Lovers of virtuosic technique, meanwhile, will find plenty to delight in the fiendishly difficult fugal passages played at high speed, as in the Gigue of Partita No.5, while the famous broken chords of the second and third movements of Partita No.1 in B flat, the Allemande and Corrente, are played with a rhythmic vigour that will leave you humming. It has to be said, though, that anyone who can accurately hum, or even play, these swift, highly decorated and wide-ranging contrapuntal works must be musically agile indeed.

Kiri Te Kanawa Sings Mozart and Strauss
Decca Although she rarely performs on stage now, the New Zealand soprano Dame Kiri Te Kanawa is still known for her bright, sweet and lyrical performances of Mozart and Strauss. This set of two CDs brings together performances from the 1980s and 1990s with some of her greatest collaborators, including Sir George Solti.

String Trios: Schoenberg, Webern, Schnittke
Goeyvaerts String Trio
Challenge Classical From the aptly named Challenge Classical label comes a selection of serialist string trios by some of the greats of modernist music. The Goeyvaerts (pronounced "Goo-Varts") String Trio attacks these difficult works with brio, and for the more open-minded this is a recording worth exploring.