Having had the good fortune to have reviewed a number of
Andrea Bacchetti's recordings in the past, I knew pretty much what to expect in terms of the
sound on this disc. Bacchetti favours Fazioli instruments, which have a generally warmer and
more expressive tone than your typical Steinway, whose balance is more impressively sparkly.
Brightness and sparkle do not necessarily generate greater projection in concert however.
I always make the comparison with my own instruments, the old pre-war wooden flute not
necessarily having the sheer power of high tech computer-modelled silver, but still being
capable of making the air sing and the walls shimmer with satisfactory reflections. The walls
of the Fazioli Concert Hall do not enclose a huge acoustic space, but are perfectly suitable
for more intimate sounding recital programmes, and this Bach sounds very good, if perhaps not
quit as close as several piano recordings.
This is more true of my principal reference, that of Angela Hewitt on Hyperion. Placed in a
more resonant acoustic, the microphones are also placed closer to the piano so that contrasts
of colour are more immediately apparent. I am a big fan of Angela Hewitt, and like her Toccatas
very much indeed. She has one disadvantage over the Dynamic CD in that her BWV numbers appear
all as one track, where Bacchetti's movements are all listed separately, which to my mind is
what the convenience of CD is all about, although MP3 download fans will probably disagree on
this point. Hewitt is a degree freer with her moulding of phrases and her elasticity with tempi
in the Toccatas, which in the end is another reason these are not my absolute top favourite of
her Bach recordings.
There are a few moments where musical fantasy take over from strict counterpoint in these pieces,
and a degree of flexibility is very much part of the expressive tradition in these moments. The
opening of the Toccata in G minor BWV 915 is a case in point from which neither pianist is shy.
Bacchetti also has an elastic bounce with the allegro and fugal movements, keeping the pulse
moving strictly but building a musical frame around this steadily unerring centre. Hewitt and
Bacchetti diverge considerably in places when it comes to tempi. Compare their Toccata in D major
BWV 912 and you wouldn't recognise them as the same pieces. Hewitt is swift in the introduction,
dancingly rhythmic in the second movement, and ruminatively expressive later on. Bacchetti goes
for the noble, stately approach in the introductory prelude and the subsequent movement. A/B
comparison makes him sound initially rather stolid, but with neither section having any tempo
indication in the score all approaches are fair and equal, and where Hewitt wins in fleeting
excitement Bacchetti gives us more in terms of a sense of structure and breadth of development.
Where Hewitt's eloquent conclusion is a sudden change of gear, Bacchetti's is the logical finale
to a fine musical statement. He also takes more time over those rather strange contrary trill-like
gestures, integrating them more into the substance of the music, rather than throwing them in as
My first impression with Andrea Bacchetti's playing of these pieces has remained through further
listening. I won't say that other pianists have a lesser grasp of the architecture of these
Toccatas, but with Bacchetti I have the feeling that his thinking and intention is governed very
strongly by the mechanics and design of each movement, and its place within each Toccata. The
result is a sensation that the memory of the opening notes and gestures very much inform the feel
of the last. It's hard to describe, but you might compare it to taking a walk from one end of a
cathedral to the next. You will of course view the grand vista as you commence at one end, and
as you progress your attention will be drawn by poignant memorials or smaller more intimate
chapels for personal reflection. The sun will of course be spilling into the space at one point,
the bright colours of a stained-glass window creating playful splashes and showing hidden corners
which have their own sense of surprise. Your growing relationship with the environment in which
you find yourself stimulates your own inner journeys and reflections. My point is that, however
disparate the varying movements or musical spaces, Bacchetti ensures that you are always moving
through a unified architectural whole. I don't mean "architectural" as a bare-bones experience
either in this case. Bacchetti is not as lushly expressive as Hewitt, but experience already
hadn't led me to expect this either. I may be pushing the argument too hard, but for me the
programme as a whole also has this sense of an entire structure. Bacchetti holds back plenty but
delivers emotional impact where it counts - just hear the entry of that Adagio in the Toccata in
C minor BWV 911 near the end of the disc, and you have the feeling that this is perhaps the heart
of the whole, the altar at which we draw breath and catch a glimpse of immortality.
Bacchetti keeps ornamentation at a low key. His Toccatas are direct and unpretentious, perhaps
a little too direct for some tastes, but I appreciate this no-nonsense approach. His touch can
at times be somewhat comparable Glenn Gould, though without the Canadian's brittle articulation
and none of his extremes - though I was surprised to see both their overall timings for BWV 914
as identical almost to the second. Bacchetti's "wow" factor is not as much in individual moments
or movements, and he doesn't go for over-impressive speed or excessive expressive lingering, so
do I miss anything here? With all that sense of structure and architectural form, there is
perhaps a feeling that the newly-minted sense of discovery in these Toccatas is less vibrant than
one might hope for. Perhaps we can't have it both ways, or at least, not both at once. In any
case, to my mind this is a recording which delivers more the more you hear it, and when this is
true you know it's Bach talking.