White Nougat: David Fray In Bach’s Multiple-Keyboard Concertos

Review by: Jens F. Laurson


Artistic Quality: 7

Sound Quality: 7

When Evgeni Koroliov & Co’s recording with the six multiple-keyboard concertos of Bach, performed on modern instruments, came out earlier this year, it became the immediate reference version. Not because it is the only complete such set, convenient though that is, but because of the unerring and sincere musicality of all the participants, orchestra included. It also kindled intrigue as to how a recent potential rival recording—David Fray’s—might fare, if sampled as a whole rather than excerpt-wise, for pick-and-choose comparison: Better get to know the competition.

David Fray and friends recorded five of the six concertos for a 2016 release on Erato, missing only the concerto for three keyboards BWV 1064. There are moments of great beauty, but it doesn’t take very long at all to realize that Koroliov et al. are playing in another, less contrived, league. “Self-conscious [and] predictable affectations” is what Jed Distler bemoaned in his ClassicsToday.com review of the solo concertos, and he might just as well have said it about this release. But it’s not just the playing of Fray—it’s the sound and the musical interaction, too.

The pianos—especially that which I presume is Fray’s—are very much more in the foreground. The assembled strings (hardly an autonomous orchestral companion) are relegated to harmonic backup duty and appear from a saturated, resonant cloud behind Fray. The playing is extrovert and in-your-face, meant to impress rather than naturally impressing. That’s catchy up to a point and exhausting thereafter. Depending on your stamina for that kind of approach, you might like the recording very much—or you will find yourself subtly irked, already one movement into it. The whole disc breathes the spirit of David Fray more evidently than the spirit of Johann Sebastian Bach.

With all that said, it would be churlish not to admire the effectiveness of that “smooth-operator approach” in most of the slow movements. Especially the light, fluid touch in the Largo of BWV 1065 and the lyrical sing-song in the Largo of BWV 1062—right up to the over-embroidered end! But what already started out as a little thick in the Adagio of the Concerto for Two Keyboards BWV 1061—the movement where the orchestra drops out entirely—suddenly becomes obnoxious, like the moment you realize, suddenly and well too late, that you have gorged on way too much white nougat. Altogether, this makes for a strange recording.

Beautiful, certainly, but not satisfactory.

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Recording Details:

  • BACH, J.S.:
    Concertos for Piano & Orchestra BWV 1060, 1061, 1062, 1063, & 1065
  • David Fray, Emmanuel Christien, Audrey Vigoureux, Jacques Rouvier (piano)
  • String Ensemble of the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse

  • Erato - 0190295632281
  • CD

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