Diana Boyle plays J. S. Bach

This album of gentle piano music has a definite meditative quality to it.

This is probably because of how Boyle prepares for one of her (reportedly infrequent) recordings, which involves going away to the top of a hill and thinking for years.

The sleeve notes say she has been doing this for 25 years: she thinks about the music she is playing “with concentration and in privacy”, and moved from London to a quiet hilltop in the south of Portugal, “where the quality of light , astonishing sunsets and silence” give her time to think in peace.

She also produced this album and makes all the editorial decisions and score marking, according to the sleeve notes, so after the thinking is done, she knows exactly what it is she wants to do.

The end result is something akin to Glen Gould’s Goldberg Variations, where the silence is as important as the notes.

The piano was only invented during Bach’s lifetime, so he played the clavichord and harpsichord, preferring the former for it’s more delicate and subtle sound, and the changes in dynamic and tone it could could provide.  Boyle has gone for the delicacy, and the music is calm throughout.

The Overture in the French Style was the last to be composed, published as Clavier-Ubung II in 1735.  The work consists of an introductory piece, followed by a sequence of shorter dance movements.  If you wanted a criticism, you could say the dance aspect was lost in Boyle’s zen-like rendition, although we don’t know the original piece to compare.

Elsewhere are the “inventions”, short pieces Bach wrote for one of his sons, Wilhelm Friedmann Bach, presented here as a selection of nine (of 15) sinfonia, intended as teaching material for “lovers of the keyboard, especially those who are keen to learn”.  Keen to learn more, we can only assume he meant, as they’re not simple.

The titles and dates of the pieces are irrelevant, as it’s the overall sound that’s important.  

The music of Bach played by a top pianist who has spent years thinking about how to play - if you want calm and measured music, there’s not much could beat this.

Out now on Divine Art DDA25190

Congleton Chronicle, July 11th 2019

JMC

"There is a coolness about her interpretation that allows the music to speak without hindrance of any sort."

The first CD of this two-disc album presents a complete performance of the ‘Overture in the French Style’, BWV 831, also known as the French Overture. This was published during 1735 in the second part of Clavier-Übung II alongside the Italian Concerto. At well over half and hour this is the longest keyboard suite written by Bach. Much of the duration is taken up with the long opening movement, the ‘overture’ itself. After this comes a variety of dance movements before concluding with a ‘dainty’ ‘Echo’. Other movements include two ‘charming’ Passepieds and two ‘lively’ Bourrée’s.
This is the first time that I have sat down and listened to this wonderful work from end to end. And I was impressed. Diana Boyle captures the magic of all these appealing shorter movements, as well as successfully presenting the demanding ‘overture.’ I guess that she plays these ‘dances’ slower than other interpreters (e.g. András Schiff, 31:47), however I enjoyed every bar.

I cannot quite recall when I first heard a recording of these landmark keyboard Suites: it may well have been George Malcolm’s version for harpsichord. I discovered the wayward (but genius) Glenn Gould version issued in the early 1970s. More recent experience has led me to enjoy and savour the Hyperion edition with the vivacious, but always poised, playing by Angela Hewitt. And not forgetting András Schiff on Decca. I guess that is my favourite version.
The so-called French Suites were probably written for Bach’s wife Anna Magdalena Bach. The first five appear in her music-book begun in 1722 (Clavier-Büchlein vor Anna Magdalena Bach). Interestingly, Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg was the first person to apply the title to these six suites in 1762. They are more international than the title suggests. The opening ‘allemande’ is German, the ‘courante’ is Italian, the ‘Sarabande’ is Spanish and the ‘gigue’, probably English. The ‘menuets I & II’ are French. Diana Boyle takes the entire Suite at a very relaxed pace, certainly compared to Angela Hewitt and András Schiff.

Most piano students have struggled to play Bach’s Inventions at some point in their career. It is well-known that the two-part inventions are ‘easier’ than the three-part Sinfonias (or Inventions). I think there is only one of the latter that I can tackle, whereas I can battle (badly) my way through several of the former. I never know whether these ‘Inventions’ ought to be performed from beginning to end in a recital, taking note of the key scheme of ascending keys with eight major and seven minor in each group. Here, Diana Boyle has selected nine of the 17 sinfonias and plays them in order of increasing tempo. Beginning slowly the group works up to Sinfonia no.12. The final example, no.9 is once again slow. Typically, Boyle plays these pieces slower than, say, Gould. But they are well-performed and reveal much of their delight and charisma.

The liner notes by ‘D.E.’ are helpful and explain Diana Boyle’s approach to J.S. Bach. The recording of the music is excellent and allows the listener to hear the interaction of all the contrapuntal parts and the articulation of the ornaments. 

I enjoyed Diana Boyle’s interpretation of this work. There is a coolness about her interpretation that allows the music to speak without hindrance of any sort. Neither does she destroy the flow of the music with excessive ornamentation.

I think it all comes down to her musical aesthetic which declares that Bach’s ‘music is for the inner spirit, for our deepest meditation.’ On the other hand, there is a danger here that the ‘dance’ elements of these works may get lost in a soft-focus haze.

John France

Divine Art announces new Bach recording

English pianist Diana Boyle, who has lived in relative seclusion in Portugal for many years, is continuing her association with Divine Art and has recorded a new album of keyboard works by J.S. Bach. Ms Boyle takes advantage of her rural retreat to spend a great deal of time getting to know her music intimately and this leads to interpretations which are precisely considered, and expressing the deep emotional attachment which the pianist builds with each work. A specialist in the late baroque and classical periods, Ms Boyle’s previous and well received recordings for Divine Art include CDs of Sonatas by Mozart and Bach’s Art of Fugue, as well as further digital-only albums of music by Bach, Beethoven and Brahms.

The new recording features Ms Boyle’s beloved Grotrian-Steinweg, model 225 which was transported to England for the recording, made at Potton Hall, Suffolk, in June 2018 ([exact dates were 20-28 June]). The recording engineer was Brad Michel who travelled from his home in New England for the sessions, and who has worked with the pianist for many years. Piano technician: Peter Salisbury.

It will be released on CD, HD digital download and streaming and also in stereo and surround–sound DSD formats to suite all audiophiles.

DIVINE ART RECORDINGS GROUP
21 JANUARY, 2019