Bach: Toccatas

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

LABELS: Dynamic
WORKS: Toccatas BWV 910-916
PERFORMER: Andrea Bacchetti (piano)


Bristling with virtuosic derring-do, exhibiting provocatively wanton extremes of emotion, and revelling in the sometimes almost feral stylus phantasticus he’d recently encountered at first hand listening to Buxtehude, JS Bach’s Toccatas BWV910-916 are ‘young composer’s music’ par excellence. In performance they need to sound it – both to capitalise on their strengths and to make light of some occasional fugal note-spinning.

Born in 1977, Italian pianist Andrea Bacchetti has youth on his side; but whereas the presto e staccato of the F sharp minor accrues undeniable energy as it advances, the volatile world of the E minor’s Adagio sounds merely pedantic and middle-aged, while the brilliant gigue which concludes the D major comes across in Bacchetti’s performance as stately rather than lively.

This is a very uneven disc – persuasive at its best but sometimes hectoring, and often Bacchetti misses the rhetoric of Bach’s wildest flights of quasi-improvisatory fantasy. Given his fundamentally ‘Romantic’ approach it’s strange that Bacchetti also undernourishes the sighing affekt in the D minor’s Adagiosissimo.


Similarly on piano, Angela Hewitt offers more buoyancy and sparkle, but for a taste of the young Bach, wig askew, fingers on fire, Andreas Staier on harpsichord nails the mercurial white heat of the moment. His recital only includes three of the toccatas – but you’ll only be short-changed numerically. Paul Riley