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GRAMOPHONE (05/2023)
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Harmonia Mundi

Code barres / Barcode : 3149020946954


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Reviewer :
Patrick Rucker

Benjamin Alard has arrived at the eighth volume of a projected 18 of all Bach’s keyboard works. As he explains in the booklet note, this instalment assembles ‘works connected with Bach’s inner circle and his moments of solitude and sadness following the death of his first wife, Maria Barbara (1684-1720)’. Alard plays two instruments. The first is a 2018 clavichord by Émile Jobin after a 1773 Friederici, equipped with a modern pedalboard. The second is an antique harpsichord by Couchet (c1645) restored by Blanchet (c1720) from the collection of the Musée Instrumental de Provins. We know very little about Maria Barbara, the mother of Bach’s first seven children. We do know, however, that in the summer of 1720 when Bach left with his patron, Prince Leopold of Cöthen, for a journey of two months, his wife was in good health. Bach only learnt of her illness and death when he returned to Cöthen.

The probity of Alard’s interpretations is bolstered by the intelligence of his programming. Bach completed his cycle of solo violin works in 1720 and often demonstrated them on the keyboard, his preferred instrument. The D minor Sonata, BWV964, based on the A minor Solo Violin Sonata, is a case in point. An arrangement of the famous D minor

Chaconne is also included. Rather than two discrete sets of 15, Alard presents the Inventions and Sinfonias together, C major two-part Invention followed by C major three-part Sinfonia, and so on. And given Bach’s admiration for Couperin and their purported correspondence, Alard prefaces each of the six French Suites with a Prelude from L’art de toucher le clavecin.

Alard’s approach is cantabile above all. This is not to say that kinaesthesia is lacking; dance movements are lively and evocative. These affects are achieved of course by varieties of attack and release, an extraordinary range of which Alard has at his command. There is also a centredness to his interpretations, so that while listening to them it is difficult to imagine alternative approaches. It’s the sort of music-making that, its intellectual grasp notwithstanding, clearly emanates from the heart.

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