Fernando Valenti

Bach: Harpsichord Toccatas

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Start with the sound on this historical reissue, capturing a long-unavailable LP first released in 1952. It makes the most of what was there, sacrificing pleasant surfaces for maximum dynamic range, and even allowing some distortion on the highs and lows. This was exactly the right decision in this case, for it plays to the magnificent strengths of harpsichordist Fernando Valenti, one of the early lights of early music. The original liner notes of the Lyrchord-label LP, reproduced in the booklet, are a real period piece with their masculine-feminine terminology and the confident assertion "it is certain that the present readings approximate very closely a typical performance of Bach's day." They do nothing of the sort; this was still the Romantics' Bach, with the harpsichordist trying to show that the instrument could match the piano for expressiveness. But the booklet does capture something of the excitement at the new stage in Baroque keyboard interpretation Valenti's playing embodied: the discovery of the dramatic effects shifts in register and keyboard could accomplish on a harpsichord. The instrument Valenti played is not identified; it was a mighty beast. He exploited it to the maximum, here picking six of Bach's most imposing quasi-improvisatory pieces and loading onto them every bit of contrast they could stand. The overall effect, especially in the atmosphere of transcendence given the final Allegro of the Praeludium, Fugue, and Allegro in E flat major, BWV 998, which seems to proclaim its triumph over the contrapuntal shackles of the fugue, is stunning, and the remastering is there to capture it all. A superior historical reissue.

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