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GRAMOPHONE (11/2015)
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Reviewer:  Jonathan Freeman‑Attwood


This unusual disc takes as its starting point those succinct keyboard pieces, both stand-alone and developed later in collections (notably The Well-Tempered Clavier), that Bach used as material for teaching, mostly in Cöthen. Modestly shunning any claims of scholarship, Rinaldo Alessandrini has in fact assembled an ingenious miscellany – a compendium often coupling same-key preludes and fugues never previously ‘attached’, but following a practice more common than one might imagine.


The principal pleasure of this ‘divertissement’ is how a simple conceit is eloquently identified in Alessandrini’s logical and attractive readings. Since the majority of these pieces are not highly wrought contrapuntal essays, the effect is often a sunny journey through Bach’s early melodic proofs and cathartic figuration, exquisitely caressed for example in the conjoined BWV924 and 946, the latter on a sturdy Albinoni theme Bach had doubtless picked up from someone else’s travels. The Prelude of BWV902, conceived on a motif reminiscent of François Couperin’s opening of the Messe pour les couvents, is a rare but wonderfully satisfying concert piece, and so too those odd sketches of uncertain authorship refashioned by Alessandrini with stylistic astuteness.

Above all this recital celebrates the ‘inventio’ in Bach’s music, the prime idea from which all else flows, which inspired music so astonishingly apt for pedagogical purposes without, for a moment, disregarding the potential for delectation and meaning for the ‘idle’ listener. A thoughtful volume of Bach vignettes, sensitively mined and performed with devotion.

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