Francesco Cera / Diego Fasolis / I Barocchisti

Bach: Cembalo Concertos

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Conductor Diego Fasolis and his ensemble I Barocchisti, from the Italian-speaking region of Switzerland, are hot new interpreters of Bach's ensemble music, and this disc of keyboard concertos will do nothing to slow their rise. The quality of their playing is a bit difficult to put into words (which is a good thing!), but consider the fact that the expressionist Egon Schiele drawing on the cover of this Swiss release, which might seem an odd choice for Bach, is mysteriously appropriate. Fasolis, using historically authentic instruments, creates a sound that is both dense and large, with the intricacies of Bach's contrapuntal textures circulating through the listener's mind like the murky emotions of the Schiele. In pieces like the Brandenburg Concertos he has found high levels of detail in the brass and wind parts. These keyboard concertos, mostly adapted from preexisting pieces, present different issues, and they are completely different in effect from other recordings. Here it is the harpsichord that gets highlighted, with low contrast between tutti and solo passages and a strong focus on the keyboard part throughout. Fasolis seems to conceive of these concertos as brilliant keyboard glosses on existing music -- an idea entirely compatible with the image of Bach as a supremely gifted improvising keyboardist, but one that hasn't been applied often to these concertos in this way. Harpsichordist Francesco Cera matches his efforts to those of Fasolis with an expansive style, and he is aided in three of the four pieces by a meaty harpsichord by Michigan builder Keith Hill, following an enlarged Ruckers instrument. If you like the sound of this harpsichord, it will almost seem to sing. Not everyone will like it, but even some may admit that it's uniquely suited to its surroundings here. (Hill's place of residence, however, is incorrectly given as Grand Rapids, MI; it is Manchester.) The Harpsichord Concerto in E major, BWV 1053, was recorded on a different occasion, with a different instrument, but the sonic shift is not large. Sample the well-known opening movement of that concerto (track 4) for a taste of the Fasolis style, which transforms that usually sunny, Handelian music into a dense constellation of musical sparks. Well worth hearing for anyone who likes Bach's music on authentic instruments.

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