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Harpsichord Concertos BWV 1060-1062, 1064

Marie Claire Alain, Olivier Vernet, Fédéric Rivoal, Bruno Morin (Organs) with Collegium Baroque conducted by Bruno Mazzoleni

Harpsichord concertos played on 2, 3, and 4 Organs


J.S. Bach: Concertos BWV 1060 à 1062, 1064 & 1065

Concerto for 2 harpsichords, strings & continuo in No. 1 C minor, BWV 1060 []
Concerto for 2 harpsichords, strings & continuo No. 2 in C major, BWV 1061 []
Concerto for 2 harpsichords, strings & continuo No. 3 in C minor, BWV 1062 []
Concerto for 3 harpsichords, strings & continuo in C major, BWV 1064 []
Concerto for 4 harpsichords, strings & continuo in A minor BWV 1065 []

Nicolas Mazzoleni (Conductor & Violin solo)

Collegium Baroque

Marie-Claire Alain, Bruno Morin, Frédéric Rivoal & Olivier Vernet (Organs) [Bernard Aubertin]

Ligia Digital


CD / TT: 76:00

World premiere recording with 2, 3, & 4 organs.
Buy this album at:

Bradley Lehman wrote (July 17, 2001):
The cover photo says a lot. The venerable Marie-Claire Alain is in a purple pinstriped women's suit with a bright pink blouse, and stands with classy poise. She is surrounded by three young guys of 25, 30, and 35, all in relaxed poses and black turtlenecks. Everyone is grinning. The text above their heads is designed to look like a rough sketch, and it says: "J. S. Bach Concertos pour 2, 3 et 4 orgues".

This is a joyous and lighthearted passing of the torch. As the booklet notes point out, it's a "family reunion": Alain and three of her students. Alain has given more than 2000 concerts, made 200+ LPs, and 60+ CDs. Olivier Vernet is already up to 40+ CDs and a wheelbarrow full of prizes and honors. Bruno Morin has 2 CDs and some international honors. Frederic Rivoal is just getting started; as a student of Vernet he won a few prizes and he has just joined Alain's professional studio. This is his first recording, at Vernet's invitation.

We don't find out who plays what until we get the package home and take the CD and catalogue out of the sleeve. It turns out this is really a show for the young guys, especially Vernet. He plays first organ and the other two alternate at second organ in the three double concertos, BWV 1060-62. All three play in BWV 1064. Alain joins them for only BWV 1065 for four organs (arranged from a Vivaldi concerto), where she takes first organ and Vernet moves to second. This distinction of "first," "second," etc doesn't mean much anyway since all the parts are of equal difficulty and prominence. All four organs are single-manual chamber organs (continuo instruments) built by Bernard Aubertin, and they look almost identical in the session photo.

The interpretations here are similarly unified. All these organists sound interchangeable in articulation and phrasing. Everybody plays Bach's notes in strict tempo (obviously due to the goal of keeping together) except when Bach lets the players in turn break out with solos; then they can customize the expression a bit. Each player has just one line per hand most of the time. The string orchestra (Collegium Baroque/Nicolas Mazzoleni, period instruments, 3-3-2-1-1) doesn't really have much to do beyond punctuating and coloring the keyboard parts.

This CD is of course an experiment. Most of these pieces started life as concertos for other instruments before Bach arranged them for keyboards. They sound more melodic in their original versions (of which some are conjectural modern restorations); on harpsichords they turn into rhythmic festivals. The experiment here with organs splits the difference, trying to give both effects. It works pretty well and is an enjoyable way to hear these pieces. The chamber organs remind us that an organ is really just a sophisticated box of whistles. There's consistently pleasant tootling here.

I do miss the crunchiness of the harpsichord sometimes, since it's only organs and strings here...perhaps they could have brought in a theorbo player to improvise a continuo part. That would give more emphasis to the rhythm of the bass, and there's something about the organ+theorbo combination that makes a texture magical. Each has what the other lacks. And if somebody were improvising here in these sessions, it might have made all the other players looser and less cautious as well. That's what good continuo playing is supposed to do. (Tangent: wonderful Baroque continuo is really just like the rhythm section of piano-bass-drums in a jazz band: solid bass and beat, clear harmony, plus surprising melodic and rhythmic interjections that keep everybody else on their toes, giving them something to bounce off of. Good continuo makes everybody in the ensemble feel the swing and play with freshness. Baroque composers left the continuo parts to be improvised so the players can "lay in" whatever emphasis is needed at any given moment to help any particular performance; there's no way to predetermine that.)

The only concerto missing from this project is BWV 1063 in D minor for three keyboards. That would have made it a two-disc set and more expensive. So it goes.

Production is a little below average: there are some uncorrected finger slips in the keyboard parts, occasional rough bits in the strings, and some obvious edits where the microphone perspective changes abruptly. At least it's a reminder that the performance is by real humans, not an objective MIDI rendition of the notes (which it feels like occasionally as the organ notes chirp along strictly).

The stereo separation is of course helpful for listening to the individual parts: Bach's music is full of antiphonal effects where lines move quickly around the space. That's the fun of these pieces: hearing Bach at the height of his contrapuntal cleverness. This music doesn't aim for much profundity, just a brilliantly sparkling texture where something new is always happening. It's even better when the listener follows along with a score to see all the compositional tricks. Bach keeps each player entertained, and the intertwining of the lines is a great lesson in orchestration. It's delightful to see how he distributes chords among two or three players.... (Get the score from Dover Publications for $12, all six concertos for multiple keyboards.)

A page of the CD booklet is about the 12th century royal Abbey of Fontevraud, where this recording was made. Publication info: Ligia Digital 0104088 from 2000; 76'00".

Recommended for the bright and solid competence, and the adventure of hearing these pieces in a new way. But it could have sparkled more and given more sense of occasion.


Marie-Clair Alain: Short Biography | Recordings of Instrumental Works: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
Reviews of Instrumental Recordings:
Harpsichord concertos played on 2, 3, and 4 Organs

Olivier Vernet: Short Biography | Recordings of Instrumental Works
Reviews of Instrumental Recordings:
Harpsichord concertos played on 2, 3, and 4 Organs

Instrumental Works: Recordings, Reviews & Discussions - Main Page | Order of Discussion
Recording Reviews of Instrumental Works: Main Page | Organ | Keyboard | Solo Instrumental | Chamber | Orchestral, MO, AOF
Performers of Instrumental Works: Main Page | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z


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