Luca Guglielmi

Bach and the Early Pianoforte

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It has been known for some time that Bach knew of and played early examples of the piano, essentially invented by Bartolomeo Cristofori in the early 18th century, and several recordings have experimented with performances of Bach on a Cristofori piano or one by Cristofori's primary German follower, Gottfried Silbermann. This release by Italian historical keyboardist Luca Guglielmi goes farther in its ambitions, even suggesting that the results militate in favor of performing Bach on the modern piano rather than on the generally accepted harpsichord. Several pieces of evidence are marshaled in favor of the idea that period piano performance is not just a novelty but desirable. The most important ones are musical: the program effectively places Bach's music into a wider keyboard context that involves keyboards of several kinds: Cristofori and Silbermann pianos, and a clavichord, which was capable of some dynamic variation and was clearly an important instrument of the period. Guglielmi uses the clavichord to realize a keyboard performance of one of Bach's solo violin sonatas, something Bach himself is documented as having done. The pianos used are modern copies that deliver clear sustained tones that make a much stronger case for this mode of performance than do the few rickety examples of the original instruments that survive: the music sounds rich rather than murky. Finally, the booklet offers a range of documentation from Bach's time of what's done during the performance. These excerpts make interesting reading and are probably worth the purchase price by themselves; they go beyond the subject matter at hand and touch on various other observations that throw light on how Bach's music was heard in his own time. The harpsichord remains the consensus choice for the performance of Bach's keyboard music aside from that for organ, and it was surely the instrument on which he himself most often performed it. This release, however, makes an interesting contribution to the dialogue concerning Bach possibilities.

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