Notes and Editorial Reviews
Suite in a,
BWV 818a: Selections.
Suite in E?,
BWV 819a: Selections
Colin Tilney (clvd)
MUSIC & ARTS 1268 (2 CDs: 123:28)
The main reason for this set of two discs is to highlight venerable keyboardist Colin Tilney performing the
, with four additional
filler movements drawn from the Suite in E?-Major and Suite in A Minor on an 1895 Dolmetsch five-octave clavichord, which is based upon an instrument constructed by Johann Adolph Hass (1713-1771). Tilney, who now resides in Victoria, British Columbia, is extremely well known in early performance practice circles for his fine interpretations, including one of Johann Sebastian Bach’s
(BWV 806-811) on the same label.
These works are very much in the finger exercise category of Bach’s keyboard music, even being listed in his household inventory with the cursory comment: “Six more of the same, somewhat shorter.” They are of course capable of standing on their own merits, for Bach imbued each with a good understanding of what he considered the French style. The dances have interesting rhythmic turns, but all seem to be somewhat more generic than those ordres of, say, François Couperin. Written in 1722, their pedagogical value both in terms of style and content can be gauged by their inclusion into Anna Magdalena’s notebooks. Tilney, who apparently wrote the booklet notes, takes some pains to link them to their French dance suite forerunners (the emphasis is on “dance”; they lack the preludes of their “English” cousins), but I can see very little that ought to be linked directly to that art form. What is more interesting is that the performance medium, the clavichord, seems to have been appreciated by Bach himself, at least if we believe his first biographer, Johann Nikolaus Forkel. While there is more gradation in terms of tone and color in this instrument, it is for all intents and purposes an intimate one, incapable of grand feats of virtuoso display in larger venues. It can produce acquired tastes, such as vibrato, and the tone is always quite transparent, to the point at times where some dynamic contrasts are largely missing. So, the question is, do these pieces work on this instrument? Tilney does a good job of persuading us that they do, and his playing is often finely nuanced and expressive. The phrasing is excellent, the tempos nicely moderate, but for all that, the tone of the clavichord lacks the verve of the harpsichord or even the punch of the fortepiano, both of which could have been seen during Bach’s lifetime as alternatives (the former more than the latter).
So, how does one speak of works that have been recorded often before? From a personal standpoint, the clavichord offers some novelty for me, and as noted Tilney’s playing is quite adept. But the works themselves seem sometimes to plod along, with less contrast between suites or movements than one might find in other composers, no matter that Bach was probably one of the most knowledgeable writers for the keyboard of his age. My suggestion is that, if you want an alternative version for clavichord, this one will certainly please, but if your aim is for something more robust and attention-grabbing, then any one of several harpsichord versions would serve better.
FANFARE: Bertil van Boer
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