Performers: Benjamin Alard org, hpscd
Catalogue Number: HMM90245356 (4CD)
With the sounds of Benjamin Alard’s brilliant first volume in his survey of the complete keyboard works of JS Bach still ringing in my ears, I was eager to listen to this 4CD second volume. It did not disappoint. Alard’s approach is musico-biographical. This second volume, entitled Towards the North, focuses on Bach’s time in Ohrdruf, Lüneburg and Arnstadt and how he handled the tradition of the stylus fantasticus.
Complementing Bach’s toccatas, fugues, fantasias and chorale arrangements are works by Buxtehude, Reinken and Pachelbel – the latter composer’s Toccata in C is a knockout, especially as played on the extraordinary claviorgan, a combination of an organ built by Quentin Blumenroeder in 2010 and a harpsichord made by François Ciocca in 2003 after a 1697 instrument by Grimaldi.
Alard’s main weapon of choice, however, is the Orgue Freytag-Tricoteaux organ built in 2001, after Arp Schnitger, which lives at the Église Saint-Vaast de Béthune in France. He wastes no time in showing off its manifold qualities, opening with a lengthy fantasy on the chorale Nun freut euch, lieben Christen g’mein, by the mighty Buxtehude, whom Bach famously walked from his place of employment in Arnstadt to Lübeck to hear. The playing throughout is consistently above reproach, imbuing even the strictest fugue with a sense of fantasy, of play, of joyful spontaneity. Bach would have been proud.