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Classical - Released January 15, 2021 | harmonia mundi

Hi-Res Booklet
With Volume 4 of Benjamin Alard's immense project to record all of Bach's music for keyboard, we remain in Weimar. However, while Volume 3 focussed on Bach's French influences, this one looks instead at Venetian influences, and in particular Bach's transcriptions of Vivaldi concertos, whose orchestral sonorities he transferred into the keyboard medium with astonishing success. This series has been especially striking for Alard's decision to group works according to chronology rather than genre, and for the range of stunning instruments he's on, meaning each programme represents an absolute cornucopia of different styles, textures and timbres. This latest addition is no exception to that rule. On the second disc, for instance, we have the exuberant Concerto in C major, BWV 976 transcribed from Vivaldi's Violin Concerto in E major, RV 265, followed by the dark polyphonic sobriety of Bach's own Prelude and Fugue in G minor, BWV 535, both performed on a gloriously big-toned, bell-like, silver on high and fruity down below, pedal harpsichord copy after a 1720 Hamburg model. Then he brings into play the flute-like tones of the original 1710 Silbermann organ in the Abbaye Saint-Étienne, Marmoutier, for a programme that prefaces various chorale preludes with his Organ Concerto in C major, BWV 594 based on Vivaldi's “Grosso Mogul” Violin Concerto in D major, RV 208, and precedes them with his own Italian-influenced Toccata in C major, BWV 564. As for the first disc, this features the highly distinctive-sounding original 1702 Mattia de Gand harpsichord found in Treviso's Museo Santa Caterina in Treviso, whose gently percussive-sounding upper registers sound especially ear-grabbing in the Largo of the Concerto in G major, BWV 980 transcribed from Vivaldi's Violin Concerto in B-flat major, RV 381. Alard hasn't just picked up the Bach transcriptions and played them, either. Instead, he's compared them with the orchestral originals, then come up with his own ideas on how best to voice parts and create effects, and this has reaped further riches. Just listen to the magnificent, sparkling sound world he's created for the Organ Concerto in A minor, BWV 593 – transcribed from Vivaldi's Concerto for Two Violins in A minor, Op. 3 No.8, RV 522 – thanks to the genius decision to play it not on organ at all, but on that aforementioned pedal harpsichord. Then to all the above you can add Alard's clear, bright touch, and a properly Vivaldian energy (indeed, a bit like Vivaldi, it's probably actually best enjoyed one disc at a time, so as not to end up feeling exhausted!). Never did a review feel so much like an inadequate scratching of an album's surface. To say there's enough here to keep the inquisitive listener joyously entertained for a long time is something of an understatement. © Charlotte Gardner/Qobuz