Those who enjoyed the former will not be disappointed by the latter. That same self-effacing pleasantness and distinguished musicality resounds in his Partitas.
His Bach is crisp, tasteful and aristocratic. There’s no question Ashkenazy reveres Bach – at all times stepping politely aside and letting the music speak for itself.
At its best, this produces a simple, unaffected elegance in his playing, and a light, spirited texture in the faster movements. At its worst, however, his no-frills style simply falls flat. The Sarabande of the first Partita is given, to my mind, a perfunctory reading; the hauntingly simple, Goldberg-like, Allemande of the fourth sounds almost sight-read; and the exciting opening movement to the fifth is almost comically undramatic. The agonisingly beautiful Sarabande of the sixth is sweet, but lacking in pathos. In the rare moments when Ashkenazy does attempt to impose his personality onto the music, one can feel that the Baroque is not his natural idiom. In the stately opening to the second Partita, for example, his attempts at dramatic contrast fail to convince. And in the trickier ornamentation and finger work passages, one can hear a looseness more appropriate to the romantic repertoire.
Those accustomed to the likes of Gould or Tureck will find this contribution, on the whole, a little uninspired. But, to be fair, those who like their Bach unobtrusive and easy on the ear will get their money’s worth.