Benjamin Alard

Johann Sebastian Bach: Sonate a 2 Clav. & Pedal, BWV 525-530

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France's Alpha label has issued a marvelous series of mostly Baroque and Classical-era pieces, in booklets sumptuously illustrated not only with items relevant to the performance at hand but also with a painting, fully analyzed by Quebec historian Denis Grenier, that may relate more or less closely to the musical works on the album. The painting included here has only an abstract relationship to Bach's six trio sonatas for keyboard; Grenier likens the crossing lines of the trio sonata texture, so cleverly transferred by Bach to the keyboard from its usual ensemble medium, to the multiple sight lines in the murkily sexy interior view by seventeenth century Dutch artist Samuel van Hoogstraten. It's a tenuous connection, but a really interesting painting, with slippers on the floor and keys swinging from a lock. Bach's sonatas have been performed on organ and pedal harpsichord. Keyboardist Benjamin Alard has played both organ and harpsichord; here he uses a modern French organ from the Eglise Saint-Louis en l'Ile in Paris, generally built in the style of German organs of Bach's time but not copied from any single example. It's a delightful instrument, sweet and melodious and not in the least ponderous, and Alpha's engineers have done their usual fine job in capturing its sounds. Alard's readings and registrations seem aimed at maximum clarity; he does little to make particular movements stand out, with generally consistent tempo choices throughout. Various choices exist for these sonatas, and whether one prefers this or the more colorful readings of Christopher Herrick on Hyperion, say, is a matter primarily of taste. But this is an attractive package, all the way through. Notes are in French and English.

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