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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Six Concertos after Vivaldi

Concerto No.5 in C major BWV976
Concerto No.7 in F major BWV978
Concerto No.1 in D major BWV972
Concerto No.9 in G major BWV980
Concerto No.4 in G minor BWV975
Concerto No.2 in G major BWV973
Italian Concerto BWV971
Olivier Baumont, harpsichord
Rec: No information given.
ELATUS 2564-60362-2 [60.26]

When Bach was in Weimar, he transcribed more than twenty concertos for harpsichord or organ. More than just an activity which helped him better know and learn from Italian composers - for most of these transcriptions are from originals by Italians - Bach took these works and created unique, original pieces for solo harpsichord. Naturally, it is impossible to play on the harpsichord what a string ensemble performs, and Bach made these works sound idiomatic on the harpsichord, with the exception of the many full chords they contain.

The first movement of the F major concerto on this disc is a fine example of how Bach transposed Vivaldi's unique melodies for the harpsichord. The solo/tutti feeling of the string orchestra comes through clearly as the right-hand part plays against silence or very limited accompaniment at times, and at others sings out over rich, full chords.

In the slow, middle movement of this same concerto, Bach turns the music into an improvisational-sounding passage with great beauty, with wide arpeggios filling out the background to the "solo" melody played with the right hand.

These concerto are full of delightful surprises, and the opening allegro of the D major concerto bubbles over with all the energy of Vivaldi's music, yet is tamed with the restraint of the German music of the times. The larghetto of this concerto - one of Vivaldi's most memorable melodies - is magnificently balanced between the delicate treble melody and the flowing arpeggios in the lower register.

Far from being "mere" transcriptions, these concertos show that Bach was both proud of his influences and open to learning from the masters of his time. For, following these five concertos after Vivaldi, Olivier Baumont plays Bach's own Italian Concerto, which, in this context, takes on a new light. No longer is this seen as an isolated keyboard work, containing brilliant virtuoso passages, but as the natural successor to the many concertos that Bach transcribed.

Listening to Bach's own "Italian" work after hearing these five concertos helps put the Italian Concerto in better perspective. Baumont's admirable performance shows how much Bach was influenced by the Italian composers, but also how Bach took the style and went beyond it. The three movements of his concerto are longer than most of Vivaldi's, and Bach explores much more complex melodic material. It's a shame that Bach only wrote one Italian concerto.

Baumont plays this music admirably on a beautifully rich sounding harpsichord by Anthony Sidey and Frederic Bal, which is a copy of a Silbermann instrument from around 1735; certainly this instrument is similar to what Bach himself may have played this music on.

This very attractive recording is an excellent way to better appreciate Bach's own influences, and discover the relationship between Italian music and Bach's keyboard works. All Bach lovers should be familiar with this music.

Kirk McElhearn

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