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Bach: Toccatas / Picht-Axenfeld

Bach,J.s. / Picht-axenfeld
Release Date: 03/13/2012 
Label:  Camerata Records   Catalog #: 99058   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Edith Picht-Axenfeld
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



BACH Toccatas, BWV 910–16 Edith Picht-Axenfeld (hpd) CAMERATA 99058 (78:15)


Will the real Edith Picht-Axenfeld please stand up? Even though she may be deceased? Her recordings of the Well-Tempered Clavier were highly criticized by one of my Fanfare colleagues for sounding stiff, dull, and stodgy, and I found most of her performance of the Bach French Suites to be equally Read more stiff and dull, but her recording of the English Suites, though a little on the slow side, were quite sparkling and had a wonderful “flow” about them, and I’m happy to report that this recording of the toccatas is equally excellent.


In fact, if anything this is the best of the three albums I’ve heard. Possibly one reason for my favorable impression is the sound quality—it’s fabulous, the harpsichord ringing with lifelike presence from start to finish. The French Suites were poorly recorded, the sound being somewhat distant and tubby, and in my review I indicated that this may have had something to do with one’s emotional response to her playing. But also, in these performances of the toccatas, one hears more touches of rubato than in the others—not a lot, but it is there—and there is a delightful swing to her rhythm here that I did not hear even in the English Suites. Indeed, in the C-Minor Toccata (BWV 911) she almost sounds jaunty, the left hand playing the rhythm with a bit of a swagger, and in the D-Major Toccata (BWV 912) she starts off with élan, following which she plays the fantasia-like bridge passage out of tempo, creating suspense that is only resolved once the principal melody enters (and that, too, has a certain jauntiness about it).


Of course, one must take these records with a grain of salt. She was, after all, in her late 70s at this time, far older than Annie Fischer was when she recorded her Beethoven sonatas. Even so, you’d expect a pupil of Rudolf Serkin and Albert Schweitzer and a 1937 prizewinner in the prestigious Chopin Competition in Warsaw (at that time, a really difficult competition) to show something more than she did in her WTC and French Suites, and here she certainly does.


Again, Picht-Axenfeld chooses somewhat relaxed tempos, but her playing never slackens or loses the structure of the score. In fact, there are moments in the fantasia portions of these pieces where she brings out a rhythmic affinity to modern music, so insightful is her playing here. A word of warning to those who like their “Barococo” music with brunch, though: Picht-Axenfeld’s playing commands your attention, and so is very difficult to talk over! Well recommended, even though most of the liner notes are in Japanese only.


FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

1. Toccata in F sharp minor, BWV 910 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Edith Picht-Axenfeld (Harpsichord)
Period: Baroque 
Written: circa 1710 ; Weimar, Germany 
2. Toccata in C minor, BWV 911 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Edith Picht-Axenfeld (Harpsichord)
Period: Baroque 
Written: circa 1717; Weimar, Germany 
3. Toccata in D major, BWV 912 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Edith Picht-Axenfeld (Harpsichord)
Period: Baroque 
Written: circa 1710; Weimar, Germany 
4. Toccata in D minor, BWV 913 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Edith Picht-Axenfeld (Harpsichord)
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1708; ?Weimar, Germany 
5. Toccata in E minor, BWV 914 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Edith Picht-Axenfeld (Harpsichord)
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1708; ?Weimar, Germany 
6. Toccata in G minor, BWV 915 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Edith Picht-Axenfeld (Harpsichord)
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1708; ?Weimar, Germany 
7. Toccata in G major, BWV 916 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Edith Picht-Axenfeld (Harpsichord)
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1710; ?Weimar, Germany 

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