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Terence Charlston (Harpsichord)

Review: Italian Concerto and more

K-1

J.S. Bach: Italian Concerto

Prelude & Fughetta in G major, BWV 902 [6:53]
Chromatic Fantasia & Fugue, for keyboard in D minor, BWV 903 [12:16]
Fantasia & Fugue in C minor, BWV 906 [4:42]
Toccata No. 3 in D major, BWV 912 [11:33]
Italian Concerto in F major, BWV 971 [13:49]
Aria variata in A minor ("In the Italian Style"), BWV 989 [19:11]
Goldberg Variations, BWV 988: Aria (from the Clavierbühlein for Anna Magdalena) [4:24]
Prelude for lute in C minor, BWV 999 [2:04]

Terence Charlston (Harpsichord)

Deux-Elles

Jul, Oct 2000

CD / TT: 74:52

Recorded at St. Martin's Church, East Woodhay, England.
Buy this album at: Amazon.com

Kirk McElhearn wrote (January 14, 2002):
Bach is best known for his signature keyboard works - the Goldberg Variations, the Well-Tempered Clavier, and the sets of suites, the French Suites, English Suites and Partitas. But he also composed several disparate works that do not fit into any “collection”, such as the Italian Concerto, the Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue, and other, miscellaneous pieces. This disc gives a uniquely original program of Bach’s lesser known harpsichord music, and does so with great taste and talent.

Bach wrote two works for keyboard in the “Italian manner”: the Aria variata in the Italian manner BWV 989 and the Italian Concerto in F major BWV 971. The latter is certainly well-known, but the Aria variata, a series of variations on an initial aria, is an early work that is not often recorded. It has the beauty of Buxtehude¹s variations, and, while it lacks the virtuosity of some of Bach’s later keyboard works, it is certainly a beautiful piece. Charlston plays this with subtlety and refinement, avoiding excessive ornamentation, and gives the right energy in the faster variation and the correct emotion in the slower ones.

The virtuosic Italian Concerto, which features some of Bach’s most exuberant keyboard writing, is one of his great, single works. Charlston seems a bit hesitant in the opening movement, and his tempo is a bit slow, perhaps. But his playing, which privileges the energy in the piece, is excellent. The slow, second movement, is beautifully performed, and the final presto resounds in joy and musical happiness.

Charlston includes, on this disc, a performance of the Aria from the Clavierbühlein for Anna Magdalena Bach BWV 988, which is the opening aria from the Goldberg Variations. He plays this beautifully, making this listener hope to hear him record the Goldbergs in the near future, and on this very harpsichord. Also on this disc is a beautiful recording of the Prelude in C minor BWV 999, originally written for lute, played with the lute-stop of the harpsichord. I particularly like this piece, and find this performance mesmerizing.

Charlston plays a magnificent-sounding Ruckers copy by Andrew Garlick, which is recorded perfectly, with just the right balance between presence and reverberation. This is a disc to listen to on good headphones – the instrument is about as good as they come.

This fine recording of some of Bach’s lesser known works - and the masterpiece Italian Concerto - stands out for its excellent sound and performance. A must-have recording for those who want to discover some of Bach’s disparate works, and hear a fine performer play an excellent harpsichord.

 

Feedback to the Review

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 14, 2002):
[To Kirk McElhearn] Sounds like an interesting disc.

I have to quibble about one bit of the review...the Italian Concerto is indeed part of a collection. Bach himself published it (among the few works he published) paired with the B minor Ouverture.

These two pieces are among the few Bach works for harpsichord that call for two manuals explicitly, and the pairing illustrates a polar opposition of keys: F major and b minor...a tritone apart, one major key, the other minor.. .i.e. as far apart as one can get. The earlier version of that Ouverture was in c minor rather than b minor, and Bach transposed it to b minor to make it work out this way. He's also explicitly pairing two foreign styles here, showing what he can do with them: Italian and French.

Bach's keyboard music volume 1 (as published by himself) is the six partitas...first individually, then as a set. The key sequence forms a wedge shape going alternately up and down: Bb, c, a, D, G, e. And then this volume 2 (Italian Concerto and the Ouverture) continues that same wedge as the first piece is in F, and then leaps to the tritone to finish the series.

Up a second, down a third, up a fourth, down a fifth, up a sixth, down a seventh. At this point "up an octave" wouldn't take us anywhere new, so he leaps to the point next to where we started the wedge. Nifty.

So, anyway, the most logical pairing for the Italian Concerto is always the B minor Ouverture. That is, if old Bach himself has anything to say about it.... Publication wasn't a trivial thing. For the consumer in Bach's day the book of partitas cost as much as a harpsichord.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (January 14, 2002):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< I have to quibble about one bit of the review...the Italian Concerto is indeed part of a collection. Bach himself published it (among the few works he published) paired with the B minor Ouverture. >
You're right, of course. I forgot, although it is not a "collection" in the usual sense - it is just two works.

But it is an interesting disc indeed. A very unusual program.

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 15, 2002):
[To Bradley Lehman] I found this "nifty" analysis very enlightening indeed. Just the very type of multi-level analysis that reveals what I have come to expect from Bach. But it takes some thoughtful analysis to uncover these things. Bach did not leave much in the way of notes and explanations to explain everything that he was attempting to accomplish in his compositions. It is indeed encouraging to be able to continue discovering new things in his compositions almost on a day-by-day basis. If this analysis is your own, I congratulate you on this marvelous discovery. If you have this information from another source (the author of which I would like to know), I thank you, nevertheless, for sharing it with the BRL.

Roy Johansen wrote (January 15, 2002):
[To Thomas Braatz] --and the roots of the keys of the English suites form the first line of the chorale "Jesu, meine Freude"...

 

Terence Charlston: Short Biography | Recordings of Instrumental Works
Reviews of Instrumental Recordings:
Review: Bach Trio Sonatas by London Baroque | Review: Italian Concerto and more

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