Benjamin Alard’s remarkable odyssey through the complete keyboard works of JS Bach continues with this three-disc set reaching the burgeoning Weimar period (1708-1717) when the young man’s fame as an organist and master composer spread throughout Germany. The Frenchman’s 17-year chronological project arrives at some of Bach’s finest organ works in this fifth volume, as well as harpsichord masterpieces and – a wonderful highlight – an entire disc of experiments with concerto form played on the clavichord.
The set opens with the iconic Toccata in D Minor, dispatched here with almost peremptory briskness on a modern organ in the Temple du Foyer de l’Ame in Paris. Interspersed with various chorale preludes – Jesus meine Freude and an early version of the St Matthew Passion Chorale included – Alard gives beautifully judged performances of the mighty BWV540 F Major Toccata and Fugue and early versions of two preludes and fugues.
On the pedal harpsichord for disc two he chooses three toccatas and – a highlight – the beautiful chorale partita Sei gegrüsset, Jesu gütig, along with a prelude and fugue and a fantasia and fugue.
But the find is the gorgeous intimate sound of the clavichord, where the strings are plucked rather than struck (think of a mandolin, lute and harpsichord all in the same box). With its selection of Bach’s transcriptions of contemporary works by Telemann and Ernst dotted with some irresistible miniature fughettas, this disc is worth the price alone. As Alard says of the instrument: “Its intimacy can make the performer feel naked – like a cellist, singer or flutist.”
Works: Complete Works for Keyboard
Performer: Benjamin Alard
Label: Harmonia Mundi HMM902463.65