Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Johann Sebastian Bach: Harpsichord Works - Trevor Pinnock

Johann Sebastian Bach
Chromatic Fantasia & Fugue, 3 Preludes & Fugues,
English Suite No.3, French Suite No.5
Trevor Pinnock
Archiv 435 795-2

In this programme of familiar Bach works the most captivating performance is that of the Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue. Employing a harpsichord of magnificently rich sonority (by the American builder David Jacques Way "after Hemsch and others"), Pinnock gives this a dramatic reading, the declamation of the Fantasia brilliantly improvisatory in effect and the everstartling chromatic modulations savoured to the full, the Fugue relentlessly climbing and building up the tension to the end. The G minor English Suite and G major French Suite offer, besides Pinnock's engagingly vital rhythmic sense, some stylistic insights, particularly as regards doubledotting conventions and decorations on repeats— delightfully vivacious in the Courante of the English Suite and elaborately ornate in the Sarabande of the French Suite—which makes us hear these well-known movements with fresh ears.

With the preludes and fugues from the 48, however, we seem to see a different artist. Admittedly Bach designated them (at least the first book) as "for the use of young musicians desirous of learning", but here the preludes are played with dismaying objectivity and didacticism, almost dead straight without any concessions to shaping or to niceties of touch, phrasing or quasi-accentuation. Until its last line the C major is machine-like, the gracefully written E flat with its reflection of lutenist style is stiff, and astonishingly enough even the sighing motives of the galant F minor are coldly impassive. Fortunately amends are made with the liveliness of the E flat fugue and the sprightliness of that in F. The quality of the recording is excellent.

Lionel Salter, Gramophone Magazine

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