COMPOSERS: JS Bach
ALBUM TITLE: JS Bach: Concertos for Two Harpsichords
WORKS: Concertos for two harpsichords: in C minor, BWV 1060; in C, BWV 1061; in C minor, BWV 1062; Orchestral Suite No. 1 in C, BWV 1066
PERFORMER: Masaaki & Masato Suzuki (harpsichords); Bach Collegium Japan
CATALOGUE NO: BIS-2051 (hybrid CD/SACD)
The two C minor harpsichord concertos here are familiar: one is Bach’s arrangement of his two-violin concerto, and the other is his arrangement of a lost one for (it’s thought) violin and oboe. The thrill of pulsing Italianate allegros and the inspired texture of Bach’s counterpoint create a heady and exuberant mix. The aria-like middle movements, ornaments extending the short-lived harpsichords’ resonance, flow with charming lyricism. Suzukis – father and son – play with almost uncanny unanimity, although the liner photo shows them in ‘line-astern’ formation rather than within eye-contact.
The ensemble is hard to record. Fistfuls of harpsichord attacks played with lively articulation accompanied by quite closely recorded strings can seem unrelentingly busy, and an intrusively hard tone leaps out in places from first violin. Despite one-to-a-part strings, balance is an issue – the harpsichords seem to be placed audibly behind the accompaniment.
I enjoyed most the C major Concerto, BWV 1061, initially just for harpsichords. Bach’s later addition of string parts is minimal and structural, emphasising cadences, while the final fugue is a masterpiece of both composition and performance.
Masaaki Suzuki’s transcription of the first Orchestral Suite, if hard to justify by any sort of precedent, works very well. The dance movements especially are a refreshing element in the disc as a whole, and most characterfully played. The Courante bounds along in dotted ‘notes inégales’ with a powerful metrical ambiguity at the cadences – is it in 3/4 time or 6/8? The second Gavotte is transparent enough for Bach’s witty horn calls to permeate the texture. Overall, this recording comes highly recommended.