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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Mister Bach’s European Journey
English Suite BWV 810 [14:31]
French Suite BWV 816 [8:35]
English Suite BWV 807 [11:58]
French Overture BWV 831 [17:44]
Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue BWV 903 [12:33]
Duets BWV 802-805 [12:13]
Andrea Bacchetti (piano)
rec. 2018, Yamaha Village, Gerno di Lesmo, Italy
MUSIC MEDIA MM05 [77:34]

I’ve always liked Andrea Bacchetti’s energy when playing Bach, and this album follows on from programmes such as ‘The Italian Bach’ (review) in which particular aspects of Bach’s style and influences are explored. The ‘European Journey’ embarked upon here is one Bach took musically rather than physically. Influences from the major cultural centres of Europe spread widely during the 17th and 18th centuries, and Bach and his contemporaries were by no means averse to absorbing fashionable genres and styles and using them to their own ends.

Bacchetti’s Decca recording if the English Suites (review) has kept its place on my shelf, but his more recent recordings have taken on a more individual personality. The rise and fall in the music is responded to with a little more expressive rubato such that, on a blind listening through second-rate equipment or perhaps from an adjoining room, you might at times take this for being a recording from a different era – possibly even the 1950s. Bear with me on this, but even the close recording perspective in what sounds like a not all to large space adds in this regard, that is until you start listening properly. Much is made of the B÷sendorfer Gran Coda 280 Vienna Concert model instrument used selected by Bacchetti for this recording, but with such a close recording you will want to focus more than usual. The colours and sonorities of the instrument come out best with the volume up a bit higher than normal, and I would also suggest headphone listening for an even more intimate experience. The only downside to this is some heavy breathing caught by the microphones, but this is a small price to pay for being up close and personal with a magnificent piano, the sonic balance of which is perhaps a little on the tubby side in the lower mid-range, but with perfect clarity and a genuinely realistic sense of presence. Returning to style, Bacchetti’s approach seems to me to have become ever more narrative over the years, moving further away from the analytical touch of Glenn Gould and seeking the human voice in Bach’s expressive worlds. The results are by no means heavy, but the drama in the music is allowed to speak as well as the purity of the notes. The excitement in that feeling of abandon which we have from, for instance, the opening Prelude of BWV 807, is palpable, and the melancholy story that unfolds from the gorgeous Sarabande from the same work traverses poignant regret, hope and many of life’s hard-won lessons in under a minute and a half.

Bacchetti has recorded the French Suites before (review), and in BWV 816 he has cut down on repeats and adopted swifter tempi in comparison to his recording on the Dynamic label. The contrast between the lively Courante and that lovely Sarabande is in no way compromised however, the latter having a more narrative than contemplative feel in this version. The Gavotte is more pointillist, the earlier version seeming quite lyrical in comparison, the final Gigue keeping its sense of flight, its lack of repeats cutting the duration by about half.

The French style of ornamentation is nicely captured in the opening to BWV 831, and Bacchetti’s dexterity delivers effective results throughout. Respected Bach player Jenő Jandˇ in his Naxos recording (review) is generally more up-front in his playing, Bacchetti’s reserve for instance in the second Passepied creating a greater sense of contrast – perhaps a bit less dance like, but always with arguable musical logic and that narrative character which keeps us engaged. This comparison release also contains BWV 903, the Fantasia of which comes just at the right moment in the programme to send us to somewhere entirely different, and certainly more abstract than the preceding suites. This is a movement that anticipates Beethoven and others, and Bacchetti whips up a storm as well as creating something poetic and tender. Jandˇ approaches Bach’s exotic dissonances and resolutions more as harmonic progression where Bacchetti at times delivers almost Lisztian textures. Both players have a similar brisk tempo for the Fuga, making for a virtuoso display that showcases Bach’s contrapuntal genius as equally as pianistic prowess; Jandˇ straighter and more orchestral in approach, Bacchetti pointing out moments of change with those slight ritenuti that can heighten the drama, but might prove a dividing point depending on your own taste.

The final set of Duets are from part three of Bach’s Clavier-▄bung, finishing with just the right amount of display and expressive depth, and always greater than their two-part materials would lead you to suspect.

The cover photo for this release deserves a mention. The booklet includes a picture of the piano being lowered with care onto that container, and the view is that of the Port of Genoa and its historic and symbolic “Lanterna”; Bacchetti’s intention being to connect the international connections of his city with those of Bach. The packaging is a neat slide-out cardboard design with CD and booklet safely enclosed – the texts of the latter including useful notes but the translations crying out for editing by a native speaker. This well-filled Bach programme is most certainly deserving of your attention.

Dominy Clements

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