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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Italian Concerto
Virtuoso Harpsichord Music by J. S. Bach [75 min.]
1. Toccata in D major BWV 912
2-3. Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D minor BWV 903
4-14. Aria variata in the Italian manner BWV 989
15-17. Italian Concerto in F major BWV 971
18. Aria from the Clavierbühlein for Anna Magdalena Bach BWV 988
19. Prelude in C minor BWV 999
20-21. Prelude and Fughetta in G major BWV 902
22. Fantasia in C minor BWV 906
Terence Charlston, harpsichord
Rec: November 1999.
DEUX-ELLES DXL 1017 [75.00]


Bach is best known for his signature keyboard works - the Goldberg Variations, the Well-Tempered Clavier, and the sets of suites, the French Suites, English Suites and Partitas. But he also composed several disparate works that do not fit into any "collection", such as the Italian Concerto, the Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue, and other, miscellaneous pieces. This disc gives a uniquely original program of Bach’s lesser known harpsichord music, and does so with great taste and talent.

Bach wrote two works for keyboard in the "Italian manner": the Aria variata in the Italian manner BWV 989 and the Italian Concerto in F major BWV 971. The latter is certainly well-known, but the Aria variata, a series of variations on an initial aria, is an early work that is not often recorded. It has the beauty of Buxtehude’s variations, and, while it lacks the virtuosity of some of Bach’s later keyboard works, it is certainly a beautiful piece. Charlston plays this with subtlety and refinement, avoiding excessive ornamentation, and gives the right energy in the faster variation and the correct emotion in the slower ones.

The virtuosic Italian Concerto, which features some of Bach’s most exuberant keyboard writing, is one of his great, single works. Charlston seems a bit hesitant in the opening movement, and his tempo is a bit slow, perhaps. But his playing, which privileges the energy in the piece, is excellent. The slow, second movement, is beautifully performed, and the final presto resounds in joy and musical happiness.

Charlston includes, on this disc, a performance of the Aria from the Clavierbühlein for Anna Magdalena Bach BWV 988, which is the opening aria from the Goldberg Variations. He plays this beautifully, making this listener hope to hear him record the Goldbergs in the near future, and on this very harpsichord. Also on this disc is a beautiful recording of the Prelude in C minor BWV 999, originally written for lute, played with the lute-stop of the harpsichord. I particularly like this piece, and find this performance mesmerizing.

Charlston plays a magnificent-sounding Ruckers copy by Andrew Garlick, which is recorded perfectly, with just the right balance between presence and reverberation. This is a disc to listen to on good headphones - the instrument is about as good as they come.

This fine recording of some of Bach’s lesser known works - and the masterpiece Italian Concerto - stands out for its excellent sound and performance. A must-have recording for those who want to discover some of Bach’s disparate works, and hear a fine performer play an excellent harpsichord.

Kirk McElhearn


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