JS Bach Chorale Preludes, BWV 724, 741, 957, 1091, 1092, 1094, 1097, 1099, 1105, 1111-1119; Fantasias, BWV 563, 570, 571, 1121; Fugues, BWV 700, 946, 947, 949, 950, 951a, etc. Plus works by Johann Christoph Bach, JM Bach, Frescobaldi, Froberger, Grigny, Kuhnau, Marchand & Pachelbel
Benjamin Alard (organ, harpsichord)
Harmonia Mundi HMM 902450-52 247:55 mins (3 discs)
Benjamin Alard has set himself the task of recording the complete keyboard works of JS Bach in a numerologically significant 14 chapters – 14 being the cypher Bach derived from the letters of his name. Since the project pursues a chronological path, this first instalment necessarily includes a deal of juvenilia, but there’s no denying a judicious organisation at work. Each of these three discs creates a musical snapshot at a landmark juncture. The first orbits the year 1699, and is devoted to the orphaned boy billeted with his older brother at Ohrdruf – setting the very earliest apprentice pieces alongside an influential hinterland touching on Frescobaldi and Froberger, Marchand and de Grigny. CD 2 follows the 15-year-old to Lüneburg; while the final disc finds Bach in post in his twenties as organist of the Neue Kirche Arnstadt.
The magnificent Silbermann organ in St Aurélie’s Strasbourg, and a ravishingly-toned hybrid harpsichord after Ruckers and Dulken, furnish exemplary tools for the job, and Alard’s playing bears down on the music with exacting clarity and focus. He brings both decorum and brilliance to the Italian Variations; the Capriccio ‘on the departure of his beloved brother’, (played on the organ), sports a coruscating postilion fugue; and Alard despatches the boisterous Prelude and Fugue in C, BWV 531 with all guns blazing. Given the encyclopaedic nature of the project a little more detail in the booklet notes would have been welcome, but Alard’s tantalising journey is off to an auspicious start.