Bach: Complete Keyboard Toccatas / Andrea Bacchetti

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BACH Toccatas, BWV 910–916 Andrea Bacchetti (pn) DYNAMIC CDS 658 (79:43 )

I enjoyed Andrea Bacchetti’s previous Bach release (see my review in Fanfare 33:3) and the same strengths are in evidence here: a sensitivity to dynamics (without going to stylistically inappropriate extremes), a clear and precise technique, integrated ornamentation that does not fracture the melodic line, and also the distinctive sound of Bacchetti’s Fazioli piano, which serves this music well by combining something of the attack of the harpsichord with the touch sensitivity of the pianoforte.

The seven keyboard toccatas are early works, written in Bach’s 20s following his well-documented trek to Lübeck in 1705 to hear Buxtehude play. These are virtuoso pieces with an exuberant improvisatory quality, often dazzling us with scales and arpeggios. Even when solemnity is required (as in the D-Minor Toccata), there is still something presentational about the music, an aspect that Bach eschewed by the time of his late keyboard works. Bacchetti understands this, as contemporary pianists must, in a historically informed way. He does not let the virtuosity or free-flowing passages become an excuse for idiosyncratic personal touches, but retains a level of poise and control throughout. There are many examples of this: the fugal allegro movement of the C-Minor Toccata, where Bacchetti keeps the tempo absolutely steady as the counterpoint becomes increasingly dense; or the delightfully brisk fugue concluding the G-Major Toccata, a piece that could easily have come from one of the Well-Tempered Clavier sets.

The best known of these toccatas, that in D Major, exists in two versions, the second of which is the more elaborate. Bacchetti plays this version, but chooses the earlier of the two extant versions of the D-Minor Toccata, BWV 913. He is especially sensitive in the plangent first and second movements of the D Minor, making the thematic lines positively sing, and again in the allegro of the G Minor. What lovely music this is.

There is less recorded competition from pianists in the toccatas than in Bach’s other keyboard works. Glenn Gould and Angela Hewitt have each recorded the whole set, but unfortunately I don’t have their recordings at hand for comparison. In Gould’s case it probably is not necessary: The further removed we are from Gould in time, the more he seems like a one-off, functioning outside of the mainstream (no matter how much he may have influenced re-creative thinking). Hewitt’s 2002 recording was described by Michael Carter in Fanfare 26:3 as “revelatory”; clearly, it is very good.

I can only reiterate my opinion that Bacchetti achieves the best of all possible worlds in his approach. His distinctive piano is set back in a fairly resonant acoustic, but clarity does not suffer. This disc is strongly recommended.

FANFARE: Phillip Scott


There was once a time that piano recordings of the Bach Toccatas, like those of the Goldberg Variations, fell into two categories: Glenn Gould and not Glenn Gould. A younger generation of pianists now seems intent on changing all that, integrating elements of Gould’s Bach without necessarily falling under the shadow of his larger-than-life musical persona.

Andrea Bacchetti’s decision to record the Toccatas is itself instructive, these being works long dominated in the catalogue by the Gould recordings. Bacchetti already has highly regarded recordings of the English Suites, Two-Part Inventions and Sinfonias under his belt, which clearly demonstrate he is his own man.

The relative neglect of the Toccatas is difficult to explain. They are early works, from the composer’s Weimar period, but then most of Bach’s keyboard music predates his move to Leipzig. They are somewhat lacking in contrapuntal ingenuity, although BWV 913, 914 and 915 each ends in an impressive fugue. They also lack the stylistic variety of the suites, although they more than make up for this in textural diversity.

Bacchetti avoids extremes in his interpretations. The performance style favours smooth legato, reserved ornamentation and an even balance between the hands. He is rarely tempted to emphasise fugal subjects or thematically significant bass lines. His touch is delicate rather than muscular; everything is confident and decisive but nothing is emphatic or overstated.

Little surprise, then that the greatest interpretive distance between Bacchetti and Gould is in the louder and faster movements. Compare, for example, their readings of the final fugue of BWV 914. Where Gould is fast and angular, Bacchetti is even and lyrical. He is not as heavy on the left hand as his predecessor either, so you have to listen all the more closely to pick out the counterpoint. But Bacchetti shapes the movement in a way that would probably be of little interest to Gould. He gradually builds up to the recapitulation, but even when he reaches it, there is little sense of exaltation, as he maintains a sense of control and balance to the very end. In a way, this approach is just as impressive as Gould’s fireworks, even if it doesn’t grab the attention in quite the same way.

Gould’s legacy is much clearer in the adagios. Both pianists share a desire for the piano to sing, although Bacchetti refrains from any Gould-like vocalisations of his own. The closest the two men come is in the Adagio of BWV 911, where Bacchetti creates a luminous inner beauty in the sound of each of the piano chords. It is all a little faster and more foursquare than you would expect from Gould, but it is clearly in his spirit.

The recorded sound is good, although not particularly crisp. This may be deliberate, an attempt to complement the rounded, legato style of the pianist with a warm sound profile. It all adds up to an attractive offering, nothing extreme but a performance with clear artistic focus, and based on a desire to find beauty in every element of the music. After the rapturous reception that greeted Bacchetti’s previous Bach recording, he is clearly not resting on his laurels.

-- Gavin Dixon, MusicWeb International

Product Description:

  • Release Date: January 01, 2010

  • Catalog Number: DYN-CDS658

  • UPC: 8007144606589

  • Label: Dynamic

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach

  • Performer: Andrea Bacchetti


  1. Toccata in G major, BWV 916

    Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach

    Performer: Andrea Bacchetti (Piano)

  2. Toccata in E minor, BWV 914

    Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach

    Performer: Andrea Bacchetti (Piano)

  3. Toccata in D minor, BWV 913

    Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach

    Performer: Andrea Bacchetti (Piano)

  4. Toccata in G minor, BWV 915

    Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach

    Performer: Andrea Bacchetti (Piano)

  5. Toccata in D major, BWV 912

    Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach

    Performer: Andrea Bacchetti (Piano)

  6. Toccata in F sharp minor, BWV 910

    Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach

    Performer: Andrea Bacchetti (Piano)

  7. Toccata in C minor, BWV 911

    Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach

    Performer: Andrea Bacchetti (Piano)