One designation in Johann Sebastian Bach's music that used to mystify many was his instruction for certain pieces to be played aufs Lautenwerck. If one were lucky enough to know someone who was conversant in historical keyboard instruments, they would tell you that Bach was referring to the lute-harpsichord, a hybrid instrument strung with gut strings and played from a keyboard that sounded like a lute but had a somewhat wider range. When Bach died in 1750, his will shows that he was still in possession of two of them. However, audible evidence of the instrument is in short supply; as no historic lute-harpsichords exist, the literature written for them wound up in the hands of harpsichordists, pianists, and lute players, the latter group often having to contend with the reality that this music really didn't suit their instrument. The barrier was broken in 1993 when harpsichordist Kim Heindel recorded his disc Aufs Lautenwerck for the Dorian Discovery label on a rebuilt instrument. That disc only included five works; this one, Naxos' Johann Sebastian Bach: Music for Lute-Harpsichord, features Elizabeth Farr in nine, some pieces being transcribed, but nevertheless containing all of the authentic music Bach created for this instrument. The instrument itself is a stunning Keith Hill lute-harpsichord built after specifications taken down from one of the two lute-harpsichords Bach owned.
The lute-harpsichord is one of the most beautiful sounding of all early keyboards; it is not clattery but mellow, not jangling and bright but profound and ominous. Elizabeth Farr has taken the time to familiarize herself with this "new" historic instrument, fully embracing its possibilities in this familiar music of Bach, which comes alive once it is played on the instrument for which it was intended. As the Heindel effort was acquired and heard by very few, this is a great second opportunity to get to know Bach's output for the lute-harpsichord the way it was meant to be heard, and both Farr's performance and Naxos' recording are first-rate. Those who take serious interest in Bach should not fail to take note of this release.