Elizabeth Farr

JS Bach: Concertos for Solo Harpsichord

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This Bach release by American harpsichordist Elizabeth Farr is unusual in several respects and will be welcomed by listeners with Bach collections of any size. Start with the harpsichord, built by the iconoclastic maker Keith Hill in rural Manchester, MI. It's modeled on the Dutch Ruckers instruments of the 17th century, but it includes a set of 16-foot strings, and it has a truly mighty sound, beautifully captured at what is identified as Ploger Hall in the same locality. It's not clear what this venue is, but it's vast improvement over Naxos' preferred church sites. The booklet (in English only) includes a short note from Hill admitting that such a harpsichord would have been rare in Bach's time, but suggesting that it was a luxury item that its "value cannot be overestimated" when it is used where it makes musical sense. That's definitely the case here. These "concertos for solo harpsichord" are transcriptions Bach made for solo keyboard in the early 1710s, of mostly violin concertos by mostly Italian composers. It is not known for certain why Bach made them; he may simply have liked the music and wanted to study it more closely, but Farr's detailed notes also indicate that the transcriptions might have been done at the behest of Bach's patron at the time, the Duke of Weimar. The transcriptions of works by Vivaldi, grouped together on disc 1, are fairly well known; the others are rarer on recordings and might have been inserted among the Vivaldi pieces for variety, matching the sequence in the Bach Werke Verzeichnis. In any order, however, they work beautifully on the harpsichord used here, which can evoke orchestral-solo contrasts in a unique way. The dramatic Vivaldi outer movements, on which Farr takes her time, are especially stirring. Her playing is muscular, yet not without expression, and one possible audience for this release would be fans of the monster harpsichords that accompanied the revival of the instrument on LP in the 1960s who'd like to hear a big harpsichord sound done right. Dip into one of the Vivaldi works and sample, and you may well be hooked.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Concerto in D major, BWV 972 (after Antonio Vivaldi, RV 230)
1 2:32
2 2:46
3 2:53
Concerto in G major, BWV 973 (after Antonio Vivaldi, RV 299)
4 3:02
5 1:58
6 2:58
Concerto in G minor, BWV 975 (after Antonio Vivaldi, RV 316)
7 3:41
8 3:09
9 2:07
Concerto in C major, BWV 976 (after Antonio Vivaldi, RV 265)
10 4:14
11 2:56
12 3:48
Concerto in F major, BWV 978 (after Antonio Vivaldi, RV 310)
13 2:45
14 1:45
15 3:04
Concerto in G major, BWV 980 (after Antonio Vivaldi, RV 381)
16 4:23
17 3:15
18 2:16
Concerto in C major, BWV 977 (after an unknown composer)
19 2:57
20 1:13
21 3:10
Concerto in G minor, BWV 983 (after an unknown composer)
22 3:52
23 2:21
24 2:45
Concerto in G major, BWV 986 (after an unknown composer)
25 2:29
26 1:03
27 2:45

Track Listing - Disc 2

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Concerto in B minor, BWV 979 (after Giuseppe Torelli)
1 1:39
2 0:42
3 3:42
4 1:10
5 0:43
6 4:19
Concerto in D minor, BWV 974 (after Alessandro Marcello)
7 3:12
8 3:05
9 2:29
Concerto in C minor, BWV 981 (after Benedetto Marcello, Op. 1 No. 2)
10 1:48
11 2:14
12 1:59
13 2:56
Concerto in B flat major, BWV 982 (after Johann Ernst, Op. 1 No. 1)
14 2:44
15 3:45
16 2:16
Concerto in C major, BWV 984 (after Johann Ernst)
17 3:24
18 1:51
19 3:14
Concerto in D minor, BWV 987 (after Johann Ernst, Op. 1 No. 4)
20 2:25
21 2:48
22 0:32
23 1:20
Concerto in G minor, BWV 985 (after Georg Philipp Telemann, TWV 51:g21)
24 2:50
25 1:50
26 2:50
Prelude and Fugue in A minor, BWV 894
27 6:37
28 5:29
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