Bach: French Suite No. 1 in D minor, BWV 812; Toccata in D minor, BWV 913; Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue, BWV 903

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COMPOSERS: Bach
LABELS: Opus 111
WORKS: French Suite No. 1 in D minor, BWV 812; Toccata in D minor, BWV 913; Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue, BWV 903
PERFORMER: Rinaldo Alessandrini (harpsichord)
CATALOGUE NO: OPS 30-258
Rinaldo Alessandrini’s new recording reflects the young Bach’s indebtedness to Italian music. While many readers will already have versions of the Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue, the French Suite No. 1 and the Toccata, the ‘Fugue’ on a theme by Albinoni (BWV 951a), the ‘Aria variata’ (BWV 989), a little Suite in F minor (BWV 823) and the Capriccio on the Departure of a Beloved Brother (BWV 992) are less frequently encountered. Where the French Suite is concerned, Alessandrini comes up against stiff and plentiful competition, notably from Gustav Leonhardt (Sony), Lars-Ulrik Mortensen (Kontrapunkt) and Ton Koopman (Erato). But complete sets have drawbacks, often lacking the vital contrasts in form and in gesture afforded by imaginative programming such as Alessandrini offers us here.

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This is sophisticated playing, full of youthful dash and technical brilliance. The bold modulations of the Chromatic Fantasia never cease to astonish my ears, nowhere more perhaps than in its extended passage of almost distracted recitative. None of its effects are lost on Alessandrini, who brings intuitive lyricism as well as graceful elegance of phrase to the music. The French Suite, too, is played with innate feeling for poetry, the Allemande limpid and rhythmically supple, the Sarabande reflective, imaginatively ornamented and with just the right amount of gravitas. In the D minor Toccata, Alessandrini captures the improvisatory qualities with spontaneous bravura, shaping phrases cogently and expressively. Perhaps I felt a mild lack of delicacy in the first Menuet but any such unease was washed away by the kinetic gestures of the concluding Gigue. A fine recital. Nicholas Anderson