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Bach 'Partita Party' is worth celebrating

Reprinted from early editions of yesterday's Globe.
"Tuesdays With Sebastian" is the kind of series that makes Boston's musical life extraordinary.

Old friends Peter Sykes and Christa Rakich have teamed up to present the complete keyboard music of J. S. Bach in a series of 34 concerts in various venues across the city. Within a period of two years, they will have performed more than 70 hours of the most demanding and rewarding music ever written for organ and harpsichord. At every concert there is a suggested admission fee of $10, which goes to charity.

Tuesday night, Shrove Tuesday, Rakich and Sykes threw a "Partita Party" in the Back Bay's First Lutheran Church. On a resonant and characterful harpsichord built by David J. Rubio, Sykes played Partitas 2 and 4, and on the magnificent organ recently built for the church by Richards, Fowkes and Co., Rakich played two of Bach's Chorale Partitas. Each provided informal, enthusiastic, and informative spoken introductions.

"Watch out for that Capriccio at the end of the Second Partita!" Sykes warned.

"The next-to-last variation," Rakich said of "Sei gegruesset, Jesu guetig," "is so gorgeous you can just swim in it."

Sykes, one of the busiest musicians in town, is a monster harpsichordist -- bold, imaginative, and, considering the risks he takes, amazingly accurate. Unlike many in the early-music field, he has the courage to play really slowly, suspending something like the gorgeous melody of the Allemande in the Fourth Partita out into infinity. He plays the dance movements with infectious rhythm, and when he attacks something like that Capriccio, it's like the Charge of the Light Brigade.

Among other things, "Tuesdays With Sebastian" offers something of an organ tour of the city. In this concert Rakich used the Chorale Partitas to explore the contrasting stops of the instrument -- all of them extraordinarily rich and mellow. In the first set of variations, she failed to skirt the occupational hazard of occasional arrhythmia, but her performance of the second was assured, exploratory, and, at the end, gloriously affirmative.

One was left filled with wonder at the music: at how Bach could entrust some of his most intimate thoughts to the loudest instrument of his era, the organ, and how he could make the frailer harpsichord the vehicle for mighty proclamations.

Six concerts remain this season (the schedule is posted at The last concert, May 18, features the "Goldberg" Variations, which the two musicians will toss across a pair of harpsichords.

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