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Classical - Released April 28, 2011 | Alpha

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions Choc de Classica - Choc Classica de l'année - Exceptional Sound Recording - Hi-Res Audio

Classical - Released September 10, 2009 | Alpha

Booklet Distinctions Exceptional Sound Recording
France's Alpha label has issued a marvelous series of mostly Baroque and Classical-era pieces, in booklets sumptuously illustrated not only with items relevant to the performance at hand but also with a painting, fully analyzed by Quebec historian Denis Grenier, that may relate more or less closely to the musical works on the album. The painting included here has only an abstract relationship to Bach's six trio sonatas for keyboard; Grenier likens the crossing lines of the trio sonata texture, so cleverly transferred by Bach to the keyboard from its usual ensemble medium, to the multiple sight lines in the murkily sexy interior view by seventeenth century Dutch artist Samuel van Hoogstraten. It's a tenuous connection, but a really interesting painting, with slippers on the floor and keys swinging from a lock. Bach's sonatas have been performed on organ and pedal harpsichord. Keyboardist Benjamin Alard has played both organ and harpsichord; here he uses a modern French organ from the Eglise Saint-Louis en l'Ile in Paris, generally built in the style of German organs of Bach's time but not copied from any single example. It's a delightful instrument, sweet and melodious and not in the least ponderous, and Alpha's engineers have done their usual fine job in capturing its sounds. Alard's readings and registrations seem aimed at maximum clarity; he does little to make particular movements stand out, with generally consistent tempo choices throughout. Various choices exist for these sonatas, and whether one prefers this or the more colorful readings of Christopher Herrick on Hyperion, say, is a matter primarily of taste. But this is an attractive package, all the way through. Notes are in French and English. © TiVo

Classical - Released March 11, 2010 | Alpha

Glenn Gould defined Bach's partitas as blazing virtuoso vehicles, and such has been the fame of his readings that even soberer keyboardists tend to push the intensity when it comes to these works. But, as the excellent booklet notes by Gilles Cantagrel here explore, Bach did not intend the partitas as virtuoso music or as a vehicle for his own considerable talents. Instead they marked his debut, at the age of 41, in the world of commercial music for publication. He published the partitas himself as volume one of a proposed Clavier Übung (Piano Exercises) and sold them through a network of dealers around northern and central Germany, and keyboard amateurs found them challenging but gripping. One buyer, a woman named Luise Kulmus, wrote to her boyfriend that they were "as difficult as they are beautiful. If I play them ten times, I still feel myself to be a beginner with them." The young French harpsichordist Benjamin Alard seems to tie into this more technically modest but no less profound vision of the partitas in this gorgeously packaged release on France's Alpha label. Alard's tempos are on the slow side, and his ornamentation is careful and precise rather than coruscating. Many of the faster dances have a most unusual combination of easy grace and structural rigor. The sarabandes have a lot of subtlety in the attack but may or may not maintain the momentum (try the one from the Partita No. 5 in G major, BWV 828, CD 2, track 11, to see how you feel). Each album in Alpha's series includes a reproduction of a painting, together with analysis by Quebec art historian Denis Grenier, and these are often worth the purchase price all by themselves. On display here is Vermeer's View of Delft, not chronologically apposite, but absolutely of a piece with the partitas in their combination of bourgeois appeal and technical profundity. "Based on a rigorous network of horizontals and verticals, providing a solid foundation for the composition, [the painting] calls on diverse artistic means suggesting both permanence and the accident that embodies it." That could serve as a pretty good description of Bach's partitas, which here receive a genuinely fresh look. Booklet notes are in French and English. © TiVo