BACH: The French Suites – Bob van Asperen, harpsichord (1738) – Aeolus

by | Jul 2, 2006 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

BACH: The French Suites – Bob van Asperen, harpsichord (1738) – Aeolus Multichannel SACD AE-10084, 78:20 [Distr. by Albany] *****:

The photo on the cover has to be of this original 1738 Christian Vater harpsichord before it was restored, because the keys don’t look playable.* It is amazing that the instrument responded so well to restoration and sounds so gorgeous.  It sat in a room of an estate near Hanover Germany until 1973, and it appears nothing was done with it until the German National Museum in Nuremberg bought it in 1983.  It has only a single manual, and Keith Jarrett’s survey of the French Suites for ECM uses a double-manual instrument. Yet the tone of the two eight-foot registers of this historic harpsichord is richer by far.  Of course part of the reason may be both the exceptional recording quality of this exemplary surround SACD, as well as the fact that the instrument is tuned to the "French pitch" – almost a whole tone below normal 440Hz. Also, the 1993 ECM set required double CDs, and Aeolus was able to just fit the entire six suites onto a single SACD.

There’s nothing wrong at all with performing the French Suites on a German harpsichord. These graceful keyboard works do have a few more sweet melodies than some of Bach’s English Suites, and they are less didactic and "instructional." but they are certainly not similar to Couperin’s harpsichord pieces, for example. The six suites were thought to have been conceived by Bach as a group from the beginning. The pattern of movements is based on the basic Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, and Gigue, but to add interest Bach inserts just before the final Gigue various other dance movements to break things up: Menuet, Bourrée, Polonaise etc. The various ornaments played by noted Bach specialist van Asperen are based on the composer’s own which were written out in his private copy of his Goldberg Variations.

* = I’ve been informed by Aeolus that the photo of the harpsichord was taken during the recording sessions!  So performer van Asperen has to be a highly skilled expert at playing such historic instruments.
– John Sunier
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