Bach, JS: Keyboard Concertos

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COMPOSERS: Bach,Js
LABELS: Virgin
WORKS: Keyboard Concertos BWV 1052, 1054, 1056, 1058 & 1065
PERFORMER: Alexandre Tharaud (piano); Les Violons du Roy/Bernard Labadie
CATALOGUE NO: Virgin 070 9132

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This is a curious mix of compromise and contradiction. The Canadian orchestra Les Violons du Roy plays on modern instruments but uses Baroque bows; modern piano replaces harpsichord as the ‘keyboard’, but played with stylish, spontaneous-sounding elaboration of lines and sparing use of the sustaining pedal; finally, BWV 1065 for four keyboards is multi-tracked, Alexandre Tharaud playing all four solo parts. Yet it all works remarkably well. Although Bach was acutely conscious of colour, his harmony is so powerfully driven, his lines so melodically fluent, and the warp and weft of his counterpoint so masterly, that his music can survive on these three elements alone. He himself readily changed instrumental colours in his recycled music, including these Concertos.

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Bernard Labadie sets moderate speeds for the allegros, elegant, with a dancing poise. Tharaud’s no slouch though – the triplets of the final movement of BWV 1054 fly past with delightful clarity. In BWV 974, from a Marcello Oboe Concerto, strings and piano achieve a still calm – an impressive moment in the disc. The multi-tracked four-keyboard ensemble, transcribed from a Vivaldi four-violin Concerto, is taut yet flexible, the solo instruments thoughtfully spaced over a wide ‘stage’. Minor quibbles include a moment’s unsteadiness ending the F minor Concerto’s first movement, and well-intentioned avoidance of vibrato shows up some slips in intonation, but this is a thoroughly enjoyable ‘piano’ version of these glorious Concertos. George Pratt