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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Keyboard Works
Kenneth Gilbert (harpsichord)
Trevor Pinnock (harpsichord)
Lars Ulrik Mortensen (harpsichord)
Nicholas Kraemer (harpsichord)
The English Concert/Trevor Pinnock
rec. see below
ARCHIV PRODUKTION 4794237 [10 CDs: 635:00]

More and more record companies seem to be issuing box sets of their back catalogue of late. As well as their compactness and ease of storage, a more important factor is the cost, allowing the many valuable recordings out there to be more readily available to those on tight budgets. Many, including myself, will be delighted at this release, which brings together, in a 10 CD collection, Kenneth Gilbert’s acclaimed Bach recordings. These were made for Archiv Produkion in the 1980s and 1990s.

Gilbert’s Well-Tempered Clavier dates from 1983, has always maintained a high profile and still stands up to the test of time. For those who think these works are dry, academic exercises, listen to these inspired and spontaneous readings and I guarantee you will experience this music 'in a new light'. Gilbert’s polished and stylish playing, underpinned by elegance and style, I find irresistible. Ornamentation is unobtrusive and tastefully done. The resonant acoustic of the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Salle Italienne, Chartres allows the contrapuntal lines to be clearly distinguished. Gilbert’s instrument is a seventeenth-century Flemish harpsichord that was enlarged by Blanchet and later by Taskin. Variation of tonal color can be achieved on a harpsichord by judicious choice of registration, though I don’t feel that Gilbert’s registrations are as adventurous as, say, Leonhardt’s. In Davitt Moroney’s wonderful cycle on Harmonia Mundi the harpsichord, which has a warmer sound, is more forwardly positioned, allowing for more intimacy in the aural perspective. His cycle still remains my favourite. Hans Pischner’s cycle on Berlin Classics, which I hadn’t delved into for some time, strikes me as disappointing. Very often his instrument sounds coarse and heavy.

There is no shortage of recordings of the Art of Fugue, and there is a vast array of solo and instrumental versions to choose from. I favour the solo piano, with fine versions by Tatiana Nikolayeva and Zoltan Kocsis. The version Gilbert opts for here is not the 1751 printed edition, but Bach’s own autograph of 1742, only published in 1987 in an edition by Christoph Wolff. There are four fewer movements here than in the 1751 edition. The last fugue remained incomplete at the composer’s death. Gilbert’s performance is disciplined and intellectually stimulating. His playing never comes across as pedantic, but is vernal and fresh-sounding throughout. As in the Well Tempered Clavier, I did feel that his performance could have been enhanced by more variety of registration.

In 1729, Bach took over the running of the Leipzig Collegium Musicum and opportunities arose for him to perform as a concert harpsichordist with his more gifted students. The composer was an indefatigable recycler and rearranged some of the earlier concertos he composed for different instruments as harpsichord concertos. He even made an arrangement of Vivaldi’s Concerto for four violins for four harpsichords. CD 10 is devoted to concertos for more than one harpsichord BWV 1061-65. Listeners will be more familiar with BWV 1062, as his Double Concerto for Two Violins, BWV 1043.

The concertos were recorded in October 1980 and February 1981 in the Henry Wood Hall, London. Gilbert is joined by fellow-harpsichordists Lars Ulrik Mortensen, Nicholas Kraemer and Trevor Pinnock, who also directs The English Concert. I can understand why these compelling performances have never been out of the catalogue. This is invigorating playing in well-balanced sound, allowing the listener to differentiate between the different harpsichords. Pinnock is inspirational in drawing out the best from his players. The works sound newly composed, such is the newly minted eager quality of the playing. The orchestral contributions have real bite and rhythmic buoyancy. The Henry Wood Hall provides a reverberant and airy acoustic.

On the remaining four CDs, which cover solo harpsichord works, Gilbert’s reputation in this field is confidently assured. He invests the ‘Little’ Preludes with the same attention to detail as he does to the larger works. The performances are distinguished by precision and clearly defined articulation. He maintains a high level of artistry throughout. His playing is neither self-indulgent nor pretentious in any way.

Sound quality is, at all times, consistent, and both venues offer sympathetic and spacious acoustics. Excellent liner-notes (English, German and French) place the works in historical and biographical context. This release gets my wholehearted endorsement.

Stephen Greenbank
 
Contents Listing

CD 1 [55:37] CD 2 [55:29]
The Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1, BWV846-869
rec. January 1983, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Salle Italienne, Chartres
 
CD 3 [72:31] CD 4 [72:24]
The Well-Tempered Clavier Book 2, BWV870-893
rec. April 1983, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Salle Italienne, Chartres

CD 5 [58:43]
The Art of Fugue (Die Kunst der Fuge), BWV1080
rec. January 1989, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Salle Italienne, Chartres

CD 6 [57:49]
Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D minor, BWV903
Toccata in D major, BWV912
Toccata in D minor, BWV913
Toccata in E Minor, BWV914
Toccata in G major, BWV916
Fantasia and Fugue in C minor, BWV906
rec. February 1990, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Salle Italienne, Chartres

CD 7 [50:56]
Two-part Inventions (15), BWV772-786
Three-part Inventions (Sinfonias) (15), BWV787-801
rec. April 1983, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Salle Italienne, Chartres

CD 8 [69:39]
Prelude and Fugue in A minor, BWV894
Toccata in G minor, BWV915
Toccata in C minor, BWV911
Toccata in F sharp minor, BWV910
Aria Variata in A minor, BWV989 'alla maniera Italiana'
Capriccio sopra la lontananza del dilettissimo, BWV992
rec. February 1992, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Salle Italienne, Chartres

CD 9 [70:02]
Little Preludes (9), BWV924-932
Little Preludes (6), BWV933-938
Little Preludes (5), BWV939-943
Prelude in C minor, BWV999
Prelude, Fugue and Allegro in E flat major, BWV998
Prelude and Fughetta in G major, BWV902
Prelude and Fughetta in F major, BWV901
Fantasia and Fugue in A minor, BWV904
rec. April 1983, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Salle Italienne, Chartres
October 1980, Henry Wood Hall, London
 
CD 10 [73:39]
Concerto for 2 Keyboards in C major, BWV1061
Concerto for 2 Keyboards in C minor, BWV1060
Concerto for 2 Keyboards in C minor, BWV1062
Concerto for 3 Keyboards in C major, BWV1064
Concerto for 3 Keyboards in D minor, BWV1063
Concerto for 4 Keyboards in A minor, BWV1065
rec. October 1980, February 1981, Henry Wood Hall, London