Bach Fantasy

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

LABELS: Aparté
WORKS: Bach Fantasy: Fantasia in A minor, BWV922; Fantasia & Fugue in A minor, BWV904; Prelude & Fugue in F, BWV901; Capriccio sopra la lontananza del fratello dilettissimo in B flat, BWV992; Prelude, Fugue & Allegro for Lute in E flat, BWV998; Adagio in G, BWV968; Prelude & Fughetta in G, BWV902; Prelude & Fugue in A minor, BWV894; Aria Variata in A minor, BWV989
PERFORMER: Christophe Rousset (harpsichord)


Christophe Rousset’s new album, Bach Fantasy, reveals the freedom, rigour and improvisatory bravura of Bach’s genius through a miscellany of pieces less frequently aired than his canonical keyboard works. Many of them will be familiar, though, in different guises, like the Prelude, Fugue and Allegro, BWV 998, more often played on the lute, or the mesmerising Adagio, BWV 968, adapted from the Sonata in C for unaccompanied violin. There are nascent versions of the ‘48’, and the Prelude and Fugue BWV 894, which Bach revamped to form the outer movements of his triple concerto BWV 1044.

Bach’s eclectic influences are everywhere apparent in this compelling programme. Fuelled by the wild abandon of the popular Stylus fantasticus, or ‘fantastic style’, the opening Fantasias flit from flashing virtuosity to strict counterpoint. Rousset responds with schizophrenic mood swings and dramatic, chiaroscuro effects.

Italian music casts its spell on the sparkling Aria and Variations BWV 989, which the French harpsichordist realises with nonchalant virtuosity worthy of Italian sprezzatura, and on the early, programmatic Capriccio which probably narrates the departure to Sweden of one of Bach’s brothers. From its meditative opening to the capricious ending, with its playfully imitations of the sound of the post-horn, Rousset captures the emotional extremes of the teenage composer. 


Harpsichord-spotters will relish the splendid Ruckers instrument, now in the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, tuned at low Baroque pitch to enhance its burnished brilliance. Aparté’s recording is resonant yet detailed, and the engineers have avoided the temptation to edit out the mechanical clunks, producing a real sense of a live performance – one that, literally and figuratively, pulls out all the stops. Kate Bolton