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GRAMOPHONE (06/2020)
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Reviewer: Patrick Rucker

Bach’s Toccatas seem to present their interpreters thorny issues. With no surviving manuscripts from Bach himself, and with the number of sources for the individual pieces ranging from two to 23, interpreters are faced with what must seem an overabundance of choices. Fortunately none of this confusing mise en scène is apparent in the bracingly forthright, life-affirming performances of Masaaki Suzuki on his new SACD from BIS. His instrument is a replica of an enlarged Ruckers harpsichord built in 1982 by Willem Kroesbergen of Utrecht.

The jaunty D major Toccata, BWV912, is here filled with irrepressible high spirits that seem perfectly tailored to each musical gesture. The Adagio searchingly finds its way, suggesting an on-the-spot improvisation. Arrival at the fugue taps into joy so infectious, so inevitable, dancing is the only option.

The largest of the Toccatas, the D minor, BWV913, presents another topography of affects – serious, inward, questing, yearning for resolution. Here the fugue is not the goal but a signpost on a longer journey. When the rigours encountered there don’t provide closure, Suzuki launches into an Adagio so poignant that it seems a contemplation of the human condition. Nor does the final Allegro provide an apotheosis. Rather we experience a summation of the various processes that the young Bach envisioned to achieve, finally, an end. But an end to what? Suffering? Grief? Anger? Loss? It is to Suzuki’s great credit as a musician that he can leave us wondering.

Delivering interpretations at once so thoughtful and thought-provoking, all within an aura of spontaneous delight, can only reflect years of the most intimate contact with this music. That Suzuki shares that experience with us unimpeded, along with his seasoned view of Bach’s great humanity, is a gift of no small value.

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