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GRAMOPHONE (05/2021)
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Reviewer: Lindsay Kemp

This is Rinaldo Alessandrini’s third solo harpsichord album, following the mixed-genre ‘Alla maniera italiana’ (5/00) and a disc of preludes and fugues, mostly not from The Well-Tempered Clavier (11/15). Like those, this one follows its own programming policy, in this case gathering together three groups of pieces in the same key – respectively A minor, D minor and C minor – each of which follows the same format of a short free-standing prelude, a two-part invention, a three-part sinfonia, a prelude and fugue from each of the two books of the WTC and a longer, more freeform piece such as a fantasia or sonata. Alessandrini doesn’t really say why he has done this; but even though it’s an approach that makes some of the pieces essentially self-selecting, it works well enough as a way of mixing up the genres and has a certain Bachian logic.

Alessandrini is a solid Bach-player in the positive sense of having a good understanding of his subject and the strength of technique and musicality to realise it. He caresses the music’s contours, allowing it to breathe with well-judged ritardandos at crucial moments, and uses unobtrusively spread chords to accentuate an interesting dissonance or neatly smooth an angular corner. His textures are clean and transparent, and his crisp articulation lets light into the fugues (listen to the staccato notes in the subject of BWV889), but he can also summon weight and grandeur, as in the Fantasia part of BWV904. His tempos are steady without dragging, and he can bring florid keyboard virtuosity to a less contrapuntally inclined piece such as the D minor Sonata (based on the A minor Solo Violin Sonata), and a welcome sense of improvisatory freedom to the triplet bursts in the Ricercar from The Musical Offering. And, as he often does, he has some interesting interpretative ideas of his own; not everyone will like the cute reduced-registration endings to BWV904 and the Ricercar but they are well executed and fun, and in the end surely no one could conclude that this enjoyable Bach recital is in anything other than the safest of hands.

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