Over a career spanning more than 30 years, the Dutch harpsichordist and conductor Pieter-Jan Belder has become renowned as a Bach interpreter with his surveys in concert and on record of the keyboard and orchestral masterpieces such as The Well-Tempered Clavier, the Brandenburg Concertos and no fewer than three recordings of the Goldberg Variations.
On this new album, recorded in 2020 and 2021 on a modern Titus Crijnen copy of a Ruckers model, Pieter-Jan Belder turns to the overlooked corners of Bach’s early writing for the harpsichord. These include standalone fugues, fantasias and suites based on themes by contemporary composers such as Reincken and Albinoni. Nevertheless, there is no sense of routine or technical exercise about them. The pieces here are almost all extrovert, playing to the strengths of the young Bach as a performer as well as composer, and already demonstrating that confidence which would go on to mark his mature compositions. An appreciation of French flair is discernible in the F minor Suite BWV823 and elsewhere, but the dominant influence is the keyboard writing of Girolamo Frescobaldi, whose toccatas and canzonas were studied by Bach from an early age.
The better-known pieces here include the sober and songful Aria variata BWV989 with its courtly French theme, and the E flat Prelude, Fugue and Allegro originally written for lute, but which also finds a happy home on the harpsichord. The most famous but also most uncharacteristic piece is the mysterious Capriccio ‘on the departure of a beloved brother’ which appears to be a work of Bach’s late teenage years, though no definite corroborative proof of its commission or purpose has yet come to light. Rather, it seems unique in Bach’s output as a humorous parody of styles and emotions.
In his Bach “journey”; the recording of the complete keyboard works by Johann Sebastian Bach, harpsichordist Pieter-Jan Belder has compiled a collection of “miscellaneous” works, mostly early works: suites, sonatas, fantasias, variations, a capriccio, fugues and preludes & fugues. These pieces offer a fascinating insight in the “making of genius”, the experiments with musical ideas, form and rhetoric which clearly show the hand of the Master he became later.
Included are some very attractive works, like the Capriccio sopra la lontananza del Fratello dilettissimo BWV992, a delightful programmatic work, the Aria Variata BWV 989 and the Ouverture in F BWV 820.
Pieter-Jan Belder is currently engaged in the new recording of the complete keyboard works by Bach. Belder is one of the world’s foremost keyboard players, with an astonishing number of CD’s to his name: the complete Scarlatti Sonatas, Bach keyboard works, Rameau, Soler, Duphly, Marais, CPE Bach, Corelli, Purcell, Telemann, the complete Fitzwilliam Virginal Book...to be continued. Critics praise his versatility, his innate feeling for style, his impeccable technique: “Superb keyboard artistry and consummate technique”(MusicWeb), “alive, fresh-sounding and thoroughly engaged..” (Fanfare), “The most vital Bach performances of the moment” (Volkskrant).