J.S. BACH: Concertos for Solo Harpichord (complete) – Elizabeth Farr, harpsichord – Naxos 8.572006-07 (2 CDs), 150:35 *****:
Among the many works composed by Bach during his stay at Weimar were 22 transcriptions for keyboards of concertos originally by various German and Italian composers. Six of them were for two harpsichords and 16 for solo harpsichord. This double-disc set comprises the latter. I wasn’t aware there were that many.
The first six solo concerti are after Vivaldi violin concerti. Then there are three for which the original composer is not known, followed by concerti from Torelli, Marcello, Ernst and Telemann. The conclusion of the program is the Prelude and Fugue in A minor BWV 894, which was also used as the first and last movements of Bach’s Triple Concerto BWV 1044. It is thought that Bach did all these keyboard transcriptions as a self-education project, developing his musical thinking. In the process he was often transcribing violin concerti to the more virtuosic double-manual harpsichord, offering opportunities for possible enhancement of the originals. In many of the slow movements Bach wrote down the embellishments and ornamentation which were not in the originals but were expected to be added improvisationally by the performers. Most of the concerti run about seven or eight minutes, though one of the Vivaldis runs 11 and the Torelli Concerto in B minor clocks in at 12 minutes.
The harpsichord used for the recordings was built on the Ruckers historical design by Keith Hill, but with a 16 ft. stop set of strings an octave below the normal 8 ft. stop. The results are so much richer and fuller-sounding than the typical German harpsichord with only 8 ft. and 4 ft. stops. Its pickup on the recording is close but without undo mechanical noise from the action. Farr is currently on the faculty of the University of Colorado and is a superb performer of the concerti. This is an outstanding set, and at a most reasonable price.
– John Sunier