Notes and Editorial Reviews
Pascal Dubreuil (hpd)
RAMÉE 1001 (65:01)
Concerto in the Italian Style, BWV 971. Overture in the French Manner, BWV 831.
Prelude, Fugue, and Allegro,
Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue,
Following the moderate success of
I (1731), which contained the six partitas, BWV 825–830, and was issued in installments over several years, Bach decided to publish a single volume, the
II (1735). For the partitas, Bach had acted as his own engraver and publisher (“in Verlegung des Autores”): a do-it-yourself project if there ever was one. The subscribers to
I certainly got the deal of the century, both in quantity and quality.
II, on the other hand, was published professionally in Leipzig and included just two works, BWV 971 and 831.
For Bach and many other German musicians of the time, the Italian and French styles were the two antipodes of European music; a composer could only hope to find favor, especially at court, by emulating one or the other, or both. Bach’s music, however, goes beyond mere imitation; in the case of the Italian Concerto, it is the ideal synthesis of the composer’s complex musical language with the energy and spirit of Italian string music. The French Overture is an example—one of many—of Bach’s unique treatment of the French dance suite. The work is perhaps his greatest achievement in the form; it begins with a grand, three-part Ouverture followed by the usual Sarabande, Courante, and Gigue, plus three characteristic dances (Gavotte, Passepied, and Bourée), all with
, and concludes with the joyous Echo. Despite being in the minor mode, the Echo is one of the most life-affirming pieces ever written for harpsichord.
The Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue is an isolated work; it’s often included with
II on recitals as it displays the same high level of invention and in many ways represents the culmination of Bach’s keyboard endeavors—until that point, at any rate. The Prelude, Fugue, and Allegro, BWV 998, was selected here for its stylistic similarities to the other pieces, but I find it to be rather average for Bach: workmanlike but not terribly memorable.
Pascal Dubreuil is a French harpsichordist who studied with all the right people (Kenneth Gilbert, Gustav Leonhardt) and won a prize at the international harpsichord competition in Bruges. His fingerwork is flawless, his grasp of the rhythmic and expressive content of the music about all one could wish for. Only in the Italian Concerto do I miss the last modicum of energy—the tempos in the outer movements are a shade on the slow side. The French Overture receives the best performance on this CD: stately, stylish and authoritative. That extra spark, however, once again is absent in the concluding Echo. A comparison with the remarkable David Gates on Wildboar will demonstrate how exciting this piece can be in the right hands.
The harpsichord is listed as a Titus Crijnen copy after “Hans Ruckers II (1624),” but that’s obviously not the whole story. I’m guessing that the original was enlarged in the French manner during the 18th century, probably with the addition of a second manual. (There’s no question that what we hear on this CD is a double manual). What matters most is that it’s a delightful instrument: warm and well balanced, with a solid, juicy bass register. Even better, the engineer has given the instrument ample acoustic space, allowing the sound to breath and blossom. A textbook example of how to record the harpsichord.
In all, an enjoyable Bach recital. If the program is to your liking, don’t let the fact that the individual performances just miss grabbing the brass ring deter you from purchasing this CD, especially considering the wonderful recorded sound.
FANFARE: Christopher Brodersen
Works on This Recording
Italian Concerto, BWV 971 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Pascal Dubreuil (Harpsichord)
Written: 1735; Leipzig, Germany
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