I love music.

I write about the music I like and have purchased for the benefit of better understanding it and sharing my preferences with others.

Bach Fantasy

Bach rousset fantasy The worst thing about this album is the cover; Rousset looks unnecessarily dark and agèd, if not posed in a slightly menacing way, almost to scare us from opening the CD. What lies within is a collection of lesser-known keybord works by Johann Sebastian Bach performed on a delicious-sounded original instrument first constructed by Ioannes Ruckers in the 17th century, only to be later expanded in the 18th with a wider compass. Today the instrument belongs to a museum in Neuchâtel, perhaps best known for its cheese than its historic harpsichords. (The city, of course, and not the museum!) Rousset covers several works in the upper 800s and the gamut of the 900s of the BWV, including the absolutely breathtaking BWV 922, a Fantasy in a-minor. After the big, athletic opening, however, we hear Rousset turn the page of music and stop to adjust the instrument. Interesting they didn't edit that out. As Rousset plods along in more or less regular time with the rest of the 6+ minute work, his repetition of chords as Bach has written comes across as light tedium. This piece, perhaps more than most, lends itself to moments of rubato with tempo that Rousset all too often won't be taking. While hearing him recently peform with rubato and plenty of affect in terms of ornament and harmony with early French repertoire, I am a little surprised that not more liberties were not taken with his Bach. BWV is well-done, a couplet of prelude and fugue in a-minor, which I like a lot more (here I'm speaking of Bach's art) than the next set, BWV 901 in F. Bach takes a more overt vacation of fantasy in BWV 992, a capriccio on the departure of a belovèd brother. This is one of Bach's best examples of program music, and quite out of character from the other works on this CD that include more preludes, fugues that aren't part of the WTC. The CD concludes with BWV 989, an "air" with a set of variations - another take on the theme and variations idea other than his more well-known Goldberg Variations. As a set, some of these pieces are more familiar to me than others; some are first time acquisitions. The liner notes describe the collection as a bouquet, and i think that's an apt description. Not all the works, perhaps, are the same flower. While I think there is real art to be found in each one, some are more beautiful than others. To Rousset's credit, he's chosen a wonderful instrument and his colleagues have well-captured its sound. He also excels in some instances with his execution of ornaments… he does many of them exceptionally well. As far as overall interpretation goes, he seems almost to rush things in a few spots - not that his chosen tempo is wrong; he simply propels things with a slight accelerando in a few places. I've already mentioned my preference for more rubato in terms of the phrasing that seems to call for it. Pianists seem to get away with it a lot easier than harpsichordists, but it wasn't until I compared Rousset to Andreas Staier (specifically with BWV 894 in his 1988 release Clavierfantasien ) that I simply preferred the "interpretation" of Staier. And I'm fully aware that I may have this preference only because Staier's interpretation is more familiar. And that's where Rousset's new edition is a worthy foil: it gives us more to notice, with the bonus of being presented on a superior instrument. The aforementioned BWV 989 - the set of variations - I have with pianist Glenn Gould. With Gould on the piano, all the ornaments that make up the first variation and beyond sound like laborious fingerwork that somehow is unnecessary. The same notes follow with Rousset, but somehow with his instrument, the effect is more like glittering gold. The effect is simply more idiomatic on the harpsichord. Where Gould draws more difference from among the short movements, Rousset is the more consistent in regards to flavor and flamboyance. This CD is going to be a sure buy for those who come up short on owning these perhaps lesser-known keyboard works by Bach. The sound is really good, and the interpretations are strong. Rousset in the end errs on the side of being a little too conservative for what might otherwise be a gushing review on interpretation.

Bach Cembalo Concerti WBV 1052-1054, 1056

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