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In Bach’s footsteps

Alex Vella Gregory reviews a recording of Bach’s keyboard works by acclaimed pianist Joanne Camilleri.

The internet has dramatically changed the way we look at the world and also the way we listen to the world around us.

If the 20th century made music easily accessible through recordings, the 21st century has made it disposable through online dissemination. The more pessimistic might think this is the end of recorded music, but in reality this has only enhanced our listening experience.

In a world where the recording and distribution of live events are easily done, a recording can no longer simply be a reproduction of that event. It has to be an experience that holds its own independently of a venue. Joanne Camilleri’s recently issued CD In Bach’s Footsteps is one such recording.

Camilleri has decided to devote an entire recording to Johann Sebastian Bach, tracing his musical development from his early Arnstadt years all the way to the final Leipzig period.

This is Camilleri’s first solo venture and it is indeed a very brave move. Bach is a notoriously difficult composer to bring off satisfactorily. I can safely say that Camilleri has more than risen to this challenge.

Apart from some very crisp and impressive playing, the programme is beautifully structured. There are four complete works that allow the listener to follow Bach’s musical development. There is also a very well controlled musical build-up, from the charm of the very early Cappriccio all the way to the exuberance of the Italian Concerto.

I know that baroque purists will take issue with the fact that this is recorded on a modern piano, and I will not go into the period-instrument debate here. What I can say is that Camilleri approaches these works from a very historically informed perspective, and her playing brings out all the elements of the baroque style.

Camilleri has more than risen to this challenge

Of all the works on this disc, I would particularly highlight the English Suite No. 2, BWV 807, which is divinely executed, with incredibly clear articulation and deft fingerwork. Camilleri’s forte lies precisely within fast tempi, with each contrapuntal detail emerging clearly from the texture.

The slower movements, such as the elegant Sarabande, are no less well articulated, but perhaps some might find a bit too rushed.

The Capriccio sopra la lontananza del suo fratello dilettissimo, BWV 992, is a particularly interesting work.

This is one of the few authenticated pieces from Bach’s early years in Arnstadt. It is not as tightly structured as his later works, but displays a lot of youthful energy and certainly points the way forward. Camilleri approaches this with a lot of energy and captures its youthful spirit.

The Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue, BWV 903, is exceptional in Bach’s keyboard output. Although chromaticism was not unheard of in the baroque period, this piece is noteworthy for the way it treats chromaticism not as a mere embellishment but as an integral part of the piece.

Camilleri captures the rhapsodic nature of the Fantasia and then balances it out with a carefully controlled rendition of the Fuga.

The final item on the disc is the celebrated Italian Concerto. Bach’s music, though influenced by both the Italian and French baroque styles, always has a particular sound to it.

However, in some works, including the Italian Concerto, certain stylistic influences are more openly acknowledged. Camilleri plays this work with due exuberance, and the outer movements are brilliantly executed.

Camilleri is, without doubt, one of the leading pianists on this island and this recording amply demonstrates this. It is also a very approachable repertoire that will delight any music lover. I will also delve momentarily into a bit of patriotism. This is a wholly Maltese product, but produced to the very highest international standards. The quality of the sound recording is excellent and the informative booklet elegantly designed.

In Bach’s Footsteps is available from D’Amato’s Music Shop in Valletta or online. Part of the profits will go to the Inspire Foundation.

www.joannecamilleri.com

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