The notion of "Fantastic Style," a musical term not even covered in The New Grove, is becoming quite a buzzword in connection with recorded compilations of Baroque bizarreness. In 1650, theorist Athanasius Kircher defined Stylus Phantasticus as "a most liberated form of composition, free from any constraints of text or predetermined harmony, to display genius." Other descriptions of this style vary somewhat as to the details, but with the basics remaining essentially the same, such as in the writings of Johann Mattheson and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach more than a century later. Harpsichordist Christian Brembeck has assembled a program on this theme in his Musicaphon release Der fantastische Styl that attempts to trace this style, and its distinctive approach, in seventeenth and eighteenth century German keyboard music. Previous discs devoted to Stylus Phantasticus find it largely in violin music, and that limited it to the middle of the seventeenth century, about the time when Kircher was writing about it.
In terms of elucidating the program's theme, the 10 works here do a splendid job of illustrating German Stylus Phantasticus save the first three, being works of Dietrich Buxtehude that seem rather typical examples of seventeenth century German keyboard music. The Chaconne in G of Georg Böhm certainly works well within the format with its pungent dissonances and highly chromatic twists and turns. One might think that Johann Sebastian Bach so well absorbed and digested his influences that the possibility of locating Bach works directly reflecting Stylus Phantasticus would be unlikely. However, Bach's stormy, minor-key Fantasia in A minor, BWV 922 and Toccata in D major, BWV 912 certainly do fit the bill. These are early works, and at least in Bach's formative years he has something to say about this eccentric and turbulent genre, handed down to him by the "genius" organists he admired most.
Brembeck plays on a 16-foot clavicembalo, a reproduction of an instrument originally built by Hieronymus Albrecht Hass in 1734. It has a big, resonant sound like a Ruckers, although richer and deeper -- the resounding bass notes in Georg Böhm's Praeludium and Fuga & Postludium in G manage to travel through your abdomen thanks to Musicaphon's excellent recording. Whether or not one feels that all of the music here is truly representative of "Fantastic Style," Christian Brembeck is a nonetheless a fantastic player. This alone is sufficient reason for fans of period keyboard music to desire an encounter with Musicaphon's Der fantastische Styl.