Reviewed by Greg Inglis
A major undertaking such as this, the recording of all of Johann Sebastian Bach's works for keyboard, necessitates a long title. Volume One, also a three CD box, is subtitled 'The Young Heir'. This was followed by a four-disc set, 'Towards The North', which, for his contemporaries, announced that the young Johann Sebastian was a musical force to be reckoned with. Now we have reached Volume Three, another three-disc set, where Bach, now aged 23, entered the service of the Weimar court. This was the start of the period known as his "early maturity", in which his formal and expressive experiments reflect a significant interest in French music and "la belle danse". This close intertwining of French and German styles is the dominant feature of this third volume in Benjamin Alard's recording of the complete organ and harpsichord works. CD 1, subtitled "A la francaise", was played on an historical harpsichord dating from the early 18th century from Chateau d'Assas in France, and while the content is predominantly JSB it does feature two guest composers known to have been influences on him, namely Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer (1656-1746) and the better-known Francois Couperin (1688-1733). While an interesting listen this sounds to me like a young composer still seeking his true voice. Disc 2, "Allein Gott in der Hoh sei Ehr" uses an historical organ of 1710 by Andreas Silbermann from the Abbey of St Etienne at Marmoutier in France. Again, the content is mainly Bach with two guest composers in Nicolas de Grigny (1672-1703) and Andre Raison (c. 1650-1719) and now the music sounds much more like the Johann Sebastian we know. CD 3 takes us back to the harpsichord, this time a 1989 instrument built by Philippe Humeau after Carl Conrad Fleischer (c. 1720). For this listener, this is where the music takes off and flies with Suite 4 (BWV 809), Suite 2 (BWV 807) and particularly the glorious "Suite 'aufs Lauten Werck'" (BWV 996). It is this third CD that will most appeal to general listeners and is the one that I will return to most often. To dismiss discs 1 and 2 as being of interest only to specialists is to sell them short. Clearly this series is a labour of love both by the talented M. Alard and his record label and collectors of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and those with an interest in historical instruments and playing techniques will get far more from this than I did with my interest being much more in Bach's vocal music. Bach could not be dull if he tried and the booklet notes are also of interest.
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