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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
The Italian Bach
Capriccio sulla lontanaza del suo fratello diletissimo BWV 992 [13:11]
Aria Variata alla maniera italiana BWV 989 [19:31]
Concerto I (nach. A. Vivaldi) [9:54]
Concerto III (nach. B. Marcello) [11:39]
Concerto Italiano BWV 971 [12:38]
Nun Komm der Heiden Heiland (Bach-Busoni) [5:03]
Wachet auf, ruft uns die stimme (Bach-Busoni) [4:51]
Andrea Bacchetti (piano)
rec. April 2013, Fazioli Concert Hall, Sacile
SONY CLASSICAL 88883 751812 [77:03]

This release is a delight from beginning to end, bringing together a substantial collection of Bach’s Italian or Italianate works for keyboard via Andrea Bacchetti’s impeccable touch in the favoured Fazioli Concert hall in Sacile. Luca Ciammarughi’s substantial booklet notes ably place these works in context, outlining the wider cultural integration occurring in the 1600s, the circumstances which were likely to have brought particular works to Bach’s attention and his long-term interest in music from Frescobaldi to Vivaldi and others.
The Capriccio sulla lontanaza del suo fratello diletissimo or ‘on the Departure of his Beloved Brother’ is an excellent place to start, with its beautiful opening Arioso and stunningly emotive Adagiosissimo third movement. My comparison with these performances comes from the big Bach box of Angela Hewitt, and it is interesting to hear how her more objective performance of this work creates an atmosphere more of quiet reflection than of heartrending grief. Bacchetti is three minutes longer overall in this piece, including that Adagiosissimo at 4:35 to Hewitt’s 3:17. Those descending chromatic lines are sustained much more by Bacchetti, creating and emphasising dissonance where Hewitt saves most of her emotional weight for a louder final section. Bacchetti packs some quite angry emotion into the Recitativo or perhaps better titled Introduction, and is slower and less playful with the horn calls of the Aria di Postiglione. I greatly enjoy the character Bacchetti gives to this piece, and in the end there are no winners or losers in any of these comparisons - just fascinating contrasts of view and approach.
The Aria Variata alla maniera italiana is given a very fine performance here, the opening Aria viewed with fairly broad expressiveness, contrasts of articulation ranging from Glenn-Gould spikiness to flowing and expressive lyricism. Angela Hewitt is a strong competitor in this piece, but I like the sense of urbane bonhomie which Bacchetti find in these variations, keeping our spirits up with sparks of wit amongst the sensitive regret and nostalgia elsewhere.
There are one or two surprises, such as the opening Allegro of the Concerto I, which Bacchetti takes at a statelier pace than one would normally expect. At this speed the movement achieves animation through its running figures, but Bacchetti’s variation of touch in the repeated phrases and consistency with those noble harmonic progressions is pretty convincing. The opening repeated chords of the Larghetto might appear rather imperious, but Bacchetti reserves the softer touch for the movement’s inner lyricism, the opening and its reprises more a call to attention than a sinuous introduction. The beauty of the central Adagio of Concerto III is sublime in this performance, gorgeously restrained but fizzing with subtle anticipation and constantly evolving surprise.
The Concerto Italiano BWV 971 sounds as if it comes from the same session as the opening Capriccio, with the piano set further away from the microphones and within a more cavernous acoustic as a result. This takes nothing away from a fine performance and indeed another fine recording, with plenty of lively sparkle in the outer movements, and a central Andante with plenty of poise and elegance. Angela Hewitt is a little more sprightly in the opening Allegro and arguably creates a more timeless impression in the central Andante, but with qualitative honours about even I like both performances.The two Bach-Busoni arrangements which conclude bring us back into a warmer sonic mix, but a little drier than the Aria and Concerto transcriptions. With their Busoni association there is no real reason not to have these pieces here, though with their added bass weight and heavy Church melodies they sit a little uneasily amongst the Mediterranean freshness of the other works. Bacchetti’s touch is more organ-like here, which is appropriate to the chorales, and the sustain and low colours of his fine Fazioli instrument are nicely demonstrated.
Altogether this is another very fine release to add to an already notable discography by Andrea Bacchetti: perhaps a bit of a mixed bag in terms of the sessions as they’ve been put together, but by no means in a way which detracts from fine playing and superbly considered performances.
Dominy Clements