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Fanfare Magazine: 39:5 (05-06/2016) 
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Reviewer: Alan Swanson


With the exception of the B-Minor Fugue, BWV 951, which closes the disc, this is largely unknown Bach territory for non-keyboard players. Much of this recital consists of pieces Bach wrote for his students, at all levels of proficiency. The 30 separate preludes and fugues assembled here are not thematically arranged, nor are they in any special compositional or historical order, save that Rinaldo Alessandrini has put them together here by related keys (though four of the pairs do share the same BWV number). Most of these pieces are found as miscellany in the BWV right after the Well-Tempered Clavier, and the best guess is that most of them come from around 1709 or 1720.

Because there is evidence that Bach often made changes to a piece, even adding harmonies as a pupil was playing or moving the piece to another context, Alessandrini claims that a number of these short pieces are “drafts” or “resemble sketches.” Of the 30 here, my BWV (1950) tells me that eight have their “authenticity doubted.” For some reason, there seems to be some modern compulsion to “complete” or “re-construct” pieces left incomplete or unconstructed by safely dead composers (an urge not confined to performers and musicologists of early music). Alessandrini tells us that he has “developed them in the style of Bach as coherently and consistently as possible.” It is fair to say that, with some remarkable exceptions, he has.

Alessandrini is mostly known in these pages as the conductor of the Concerto Italiano, and somewhat less-so as a keyboardist, mostly on the harpsichord. He has received generally, though not universally, positive reviews here. Listening, then, we can say a few things.

First, he ornaments quite liberally, especially in the preludes. These ornaments are mostly logical, but he feels free to play around, especially in some of the inauthentic pieces. In the Prelude, BWV 895, for instance, what he plays I hardly recognize from my score of that piece, so liberally is it rewritten and taken more as a fantasy than as a simple prelude. The Prelude, BWV 923, is also taken as a fantasy and, used as the prelude to the mighty Fugue, BWV 951, it sort-of works that way, but I can hardly imagine the faster middle section really moving at the speed with which he takes it. Listeners will either accept this approach or not.

Second, especially in the preludes, he has a tendency to slow down slightly as he reaches the top of a line, to point it up, so to speak. This is not exactly “Romantic,” but does approach the coming empfindsamer Stil, the “sensitive style” of the galant.

Third, though I can nowhere find any information about the instrument Alessandrini uses, it certainly sounds more German to my ears than Italian or French. I assume he does not use the pedal-harpsichord asked for in the Fugue, BWV 946. I wish, though, that his instrument had a bit more variation in it: One does not want to listen to this recording straight through.

The recording is clean and rather close, which tends to emphasize the stiff attack of the plectra. Alessandrini sees more than notes here: His articulation is clear but does try to show the inherent line, and that is all to the good. The opening Fugue, BWV 933, for example, gets off to a fine start, and he adds all sorts of ornaments and little cadential runs to the score. But, as in the following Fugue, BWV 952, for instance, the fugues generally seem to be taken more literally, and there are occasional tiny rhythmic hesitations that catch the ear. As a whole, there is something dutiful about this performance: It doesn’t really get around to singing, which Bach said was the key to a good style of playing. The notes, by Alessandrini, writing presumably in Italian, are given only in miserable French and English translations.

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