JS Bach: ‘Italian’ Concerto/’French’ Overture

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COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: JS Bach: ‘Italian’ Concerto, ‘French’ Overture
WORKS: Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue, BWV 903; Aria variata ‘alla maniera Italiana’, BWV 989; Fantasia, BWV 906; Concerto nach Italienischem Gusto, BWV 971; Ouverture nach Franzosischer Art, BWV 831
PERFORMER: Steven Devine (harpsichord)
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 0802

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The Overture After the French Manner has tended to languish in the extrovert shadow of its ClavierÜbung II sibling the Italian Concerto. But, whether prelude and fugue or monumental Mass setting, Bach invariably produces something special when writing in the key of B minor. And the Clavier-Übung II’s stylistic yin and yang doesn’t just illuminate his take on the prevailing Italian and French fashions, it reveals his own musical thinking, too.

Either work would lend heft to a recital programme. Even so, Steven Devine opens with the mighty Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue (whose startling modulations give CPE Bach’s flights of fancy a run for their money), and includes the magisterial C minor Fantasia with its prodigal hand crossings. There’s also the less familiar Aria variata, an early dry run for the Goldbergs, performed in the 10-variations version preserved in the Andreas Bach Book.

It’s a lineup oozing virtuosic exuberance, and, as in his heel-kicking additions to the Ouverture’s Echo, Devine can do ‘brilliance’; but he’s never interested in virtuosity for its own sake. Often measured – though he superbly nails the playful quirkiness of Ouverture’s Courante – he eschews the fiery flamboyance of Andreas Staier’s Italian Concerto, or more sturm und drang accounts of the Chromatic Fantasia, and allows the music to speak for itself.

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Paul Riley