Bach: Works for Harpsichord

Aapo Häkkinen
Naxos 8.573087
BWV818, 819, 832, 895, 896, 899-900, 917, 918, 922, 933-938, 952, 959, 961 & 993

In addition to the works listed on the title page of this CD, there are a large number of lesser-known works by Bach, some of which were quite unknown to me. They show Bach experimenting in a number of styles, sometimes sounding more like Telemann, sometimes more galant; at other times more rhapsodic or even more like an intellectual exercise in complex fugal forms. These factors alone would make this an interesting CD, but what makes the music work is the quality of the playing and Häkkinen’s choice of instrument. Recorded in a Finnish church, he uses a 1970 harpsichord by Rutkowski & Robinette after the 1760 Hass in the Yale instrument collection which has 1 x 16’, 2 x 8’, 1 x 4’ and 1 x 2’ (though this rank was not included by Rutkowski & Robinette), with buff stops to the upper 8’ and lower 16’. The instrument was beautifully prepared in a variety of temperaments for different sections of the pieces: 1/6 comma meantone, Kellner and Sorge. In the acoustic of the church and recorded exceptionally well, this gives a range of tone from the bell-like (the opening Prelude in A major is played on the 4’) to the ringingly rumbustious when the 16’ is used as well.

We know surprisingly little about Bach’s harpsichords. The only maker whose name is directly associated with Bach is Michael Mietke, the Berlin maker who delivered a harpsichord to Köthen in 1719, and none of his instruments that survive have a 16’. And while Zacharias Hildebrandt, who had care of the harpsichords in Leipzig churches at the end of Bach’s life, did build a large-scale instrument with a 16’ register, there is no evidence that Bach had one or used one. Yet on the evidence of the ringing clarity of the 16’ on this instrument in fugal writing as well as in the suites, I am persuaded that we should not dismiss the use of a large instrument of the Hildebrandt style being used in HIP of Bach.

David Stancliffe