John Paul

The Complete Clavier Suites of J.S. Bach, Vol. 1

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The lautenwerck (or lautenwerk) was a Baroque keyboard instrument with leather quills, so called because of the somewhat lute-like sound that resulted. Bach is known to have used them. One can see why they never caught on even though it was capable of modest dynamic variation -- what might be called the signal-to-noise ratio is not favorable -- but the instrument has always had its followers. British-American keyboardist John Paul points out that this lautenwerck recording should be heard at low volume, which reduces the mechanical noise and emphasizes the uniquely precise but gentle quality that ornaments take on when played on the lautenwerck. Paul has been for many years the organist at St. Andrew's Episcopal cathedral in Jackson, MS, where the present disc was recorded; the environment is too live for the intimate chamber dimensions Paul is shooting for. He does not provide any information about the instrument played, and one wonders whether a lautenwerck is a common find in Mississippi. For the general listener it takes a while to get used to, but listen at low volume as Paul directs, and by the time you reach the final Partita No. 1 in B flat major, BWV 825, the lautenwerck will exert its peculiar fascination. Beyond the durable division into outdoor and indoor music that shaped the Western tradition for centuries lay a third category: home music-making, carried out mostly for oneself rather than for an audience. This category has been given short shrift on recordings, inasmuch the home instrument of Mozart, for instance, was indisputably a clavichord for the first part of his career. The lautenwerck also falls into this category of music-making, and it has a rather uncanny quality of peeling back the layers of Bach's counterpoint as played here. This is the first in an eventual set of seven volumes of Bach's keyboard music, apparently all to be played on the lautenwerck; the hardcore Bach collector will eagerly anticipate future releases.

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