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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Music for Harpsichord
French Ouverture, BWV 831
Chorale Christum wir sollen loben schön BWV 696
Four Duetti BWV 802-805
Chorale In dulci jubilo BWV 729
Toccata in E minor BWV 914
Toccata in G major BWV 916
Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in D minor BWV 903
David Cates (harpsichord)
Rec: May 1999, Kirkland, Washington.
WILDBOAR WLBR9902 [73.15]


David Cates is a harpsichordist living in California, who has so far made few recordings, including a disc of harpsichord music by Froberger for Wildboar records. In this recording of a selection of Bach's music for harpsichord he brings together a variety of works, from two of Bach's toccatas to his great French Overture and the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue, and also plays several smaller pieces to fill out the program.

In addition to Cates' playing, one of the stars of this recording is the beautiful harpsichord by Owen Daly, which seems to have been built to play this music and none other. Whether in rapid virtuoso passages, such as the third section of the E minor toccata, or more introspective sections, such as the sarabande of the French Overture, this instrument offers an ideal tone: neither too harsh nor too damped, bringing out the subtle colors of Bach's music.

Cates performs this music admirably, using a fine range of tempi and energies. He is emotive in the slower movements, such as the sarabande of the French Overture, which is one of Bach's finest such movements, and he seems to have fire in his fingers in the virtuoso runs of the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue. The only part of this recording that disappoints a bit is the opening section of the G major toccata, where Cates seems to shy away from giving this piece the verve that it deserves. He plays this entire toccata at a relatively slow tempo, which surprises somewhat. But the delicacy of his harpsichord seems to call for such a treatment, and, at the end of the work, the shock wears off and one cannot but wonder if this tempo is more appropriate.

Unique on this disc is the performance of two organ chorales on harpsichord. While clearly not written for the instrument, and not of a style that usually works on a plucked instrument, the performances of these two chorales are quite a revelation, especially BWV 696. The harmonies that develop, which are masked by the volume and resonance of the organ, show these two miniatures as models of subtle counterpoint and chromaticism.

This is an especially attractive recital, with a diverse selection of works, played with great intensity and grace. The recording is up to the usual standards of Wildboar discs, and the sound is extremely realistic and natural. This is one hour and thirteen minutes of excellent music, played on a magnificent instrument with exemplary sound. What more could you ask?

Kirk McElhearn

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