Fantasia Baroque: Improvisations on Bach, Bertali & Pasquini

Aleksandra & Alexander Grychtolik harpsichords
Coviello Classics COV91501

The contradiction inherent in recording a definitive version of an improvisation is dealt with head on in the extended interview with the players which makes up the sleeve note here, arguing that an improvisation ‘has its own aesthetic quality which can be captured on CD just like an interpretation’. The recording does make a strong case for this, particularly in an extended Fantasy in the style of C. P. E. Bach, though what we are really dealing with are prepared pastiche pieces in the styles of the four composers used as models (the ‘Bach’ in the subtitle covers both J. S. and C. P. E.). The Pasquini figured basses for two players, presumably designed as teaching pieces, are well captured here, though the movements are all rather short and formulaic. Also for two players are the opening chaconne based on Bertali and the concluding concerto which is closely modelled on J. S. Bach’s Italian Concerto.

Both are good pastiche works which capture effectively the international baroque style of their models. The performers play on harpsichord copies by Cornelis Bom, one of a 1745 Dulcken and the other of 1681 Giusti; the difference in sound is useful in distinguishing the two players in the duets. Most interesting, though, are the solo items improvised by Alexander Grychtolik. There is a five-movement partita in the style of J.S. Bach which sticks to well-defined movements and easily recognisable patterns. It has an effective gallant Sarabande which leads nicely to what is undoubtedly the highlight of this recording, the twelve-minute Fantasie in the style of C. P. E. Bach. This is a real tour-de-force of improvisation in the empfindsamer Stil, starting with late works of J. S. Bach and moving through C. P. E. to foreshadow Mozart’s keyboard fantasies. It shows a constantly shifting inspiration and, while one is inevitably inclined to guess the source of a particular quotation, it does rise above this to form a coherent if quirky whole – just as its models do. The playing on this recording is excellent and it is especially worthwhile in providing a salutary reminder of the improvisational basis for much of what we now regard as canonic in this repertory.

Noel O’Regan