Review by: David Hurwitz

Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

Alexandre Tharaud is a remarkable pianist who has assembled a far-from-conventional program of Bach transcriptions based on Italian concertos, all of which serve to frame scintillating performances of the German composer’s own Italian Concerto BWV 971. In this, the major work on the disc, Tharaud’s rendition must be accounted one of the most successful available. In the outer movements, he correctly avails himself of every pianistic tool at his disposal, including beautifully proportioned gradations in dynamics, to clarify the distinction between solo and tutti passages, and the result has even more structural clarity (and therefore expressive point) then most performances on harpsichord. The central andante shows Tharaud sensitive (as he is in all of these slow movements) to the need to cultivate a true cantabile style of phrasing, with ornamentation that is just that: an embellishment and not an excess of decoration that buries the long, lyrical melodic line.

There are many high points in the remaining works as well, but I have to give special mention to the Vivaldi Concerto in G minor BWV 975. The way Tharaud launches the work, gently, only gradually allowing the main tempo to emerge as the density of the writing increases, strikes me as absolutely brilliant and wholly in keeping with the character of the music, while his touch in the central Largo is breathtaking, the final bars simply exquisite. It’s one of those movements that, taken out of context and played on the radio or in a film, could make this disc a runaway best-seller. The two Marcello-based concertos (BWV 974 and 981) make a well-contrasted pair, one on the standard fast-slow-fast pattern, the other in four movements with an opening Adagio. Vivaldi’s short and peppy G major concerto BWV 973 makes a perfect conclusion, and there’s even an encore, the Andante from BWV 979.

This last item, taken in tandem with the delicious Sicilienne from BWV 596, and the smartly placed Aria de la Pastorale from BWV 590 (between the Vivaldi G minor and the Bach Italian Concerto), show the care with which Tharaud has assembled this program, which makes an absolutely perfect, satisfying whole when played straight through. Toss in ideally warm and lucid recorded sound, and the result impresses me as one of the finest Baroque keyboard recitals in many years, a masterpiece of programming and execution that will deliver hours and hours of listening pleasure. You will be enchanted. [3/1/2005]

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: None for this coupling

J.S. BACH - Italian Concerto; Keyboard transcriptions from Vivaldi and Marcello

  • Alexandre Tharaud (piano)

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