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"Bach et le bon goût"

Markus Märkl, harpsichord
rec: July 8 - 10, 2007, Boswill (Swi), Alte Kirche
Pan Classics - PC 10223 (© 2008) (69'35")

Jean-Henry D'ANGLEBERT (1635-1691): [Suite No 3 in d minor] prélude; [Suite No 4 in D] Tombeau de Mr. de Chambonnières; Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Ouvertüre nach französischer Art in b minor (BWV 831); François COUPERIN (1668-1733): [6e Ordre in B flat] Les Moissonneurs; Les Langueurs; Le Gazoüillement; Les Baricades; Les Bergeries); Louis MARCHAND (1669-1732): Livre premier in d minor

As everyone knows Bach was a representative of the goûts réunis in Germany, the mixture of the Italian and the French style. This disc wants to show Bach as admirer of the French style. In the centre of the programme is the Partita in b minor (BWV 831), also called Ouvertüre nach französischer Art. It was included in the Clavier-Übung II, together with the Concerto nach italienischem Gusto in F (BWV 971), and this way Bach allowed a direct confrontation between both styles. It is underlined by his choice of keys: F major vs b minor - the furthest possible distance in the circle of fifths - and opposing major and minor.

The Partita is a testimony of Bach's interest in the French style, for instance the oeuvre of François Couperin and Louis Marchand. This explains the choice of composers for this disc. Bach included Couperin's 'Les Bergeries' from the 6e Ordre in the Notenbüchlein für Anna Magdalena Bach and he played Marchand's suites, according to the theorist Jakob Adlung. He also is the source of the story about a contest in keyboard improvisation between Marchand and Bach, which didn't take place as Marchand failed to show up.

The inclusion of two pieces by Jean-Henry d'Anglebert also makes sense. Firstly he probably was a pupil of Jacques Champion de Chambonnières, who is considered the father of the French harpsichord school, and he is especially important for his table of ornaments which was added to his Pièces de clavecin of 1689. Secondly, Bach copied this table of ornaments which further proves his interest in the French keyboard style.

With all the differences between the French and Italian style one shouldn't overestimate the contrast between the two pieces in Clavier-Übung II. As different as they may be, what they have in common is an orchestral character. The Italian Concerto is written in the style of the Vivaldian concerto, whereas the French Overture is reflecting the sequence of overture and suite by Jean-Baptiste Lully, which was extracted from the opera. Bach had already paid tribute to this kind of suite in his orchestral overtures, which open with a majestic 'ouverture', just like the Partita in b minor. Whereas the 'allemande' - a fixed part of the keyboard suite in the 18th century - is left out, the Partita ends with an 'Echo', a kind of 'Kehraus'. This was the word used for the last dance in German-speaking countries. It is comparable with the 'badinerie' of Bach's orchestral suite No 2.

The German harpsichordist Markus Märkl has made a good and intelligent choice of music for this disc, which elucidates Bach's fascination with the French style. He generally plays the music well. Couperin is coming off best, as Märkl captures the spirit of the various character pieces well. His playing of Marchand's Livre premier in d minor is a little less consistent: the overture is a bit stiff, whereas the sarabande is particularly well played, in an almost improvisatory manner.

Bach's Overture nach Französischer Art is given a good performance, but it is again the overture which I am not fully satisfied with. I find the tempo a bit too slow, and I miss the grandeur which is associated with such an overture. What I really don't understand is why the last movement of Marchand's suite - a menuet - is fading out. The last piece of this disc, 'La Gazoüillement', is even worse: it starts with a fade-in and ends with a fade-out. I don't understand the reasoning behind such tricks. Neither the music nor the performer needs them.
They are little blots on an otherwise recommendable disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

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