Home listening: Bach on harpsichord, piano, organ… take your pick

Revelatory Mahan Esfahani, Keith Jarrett live in 1987 and Olivier Latry at the Proms

• Now that we so often hear Bach’s keyboard works played on the piano (and the debate about whether it’s even legitimate to listen to them on a modern instrument has subsided), returning to performances on the harpsichord can prove a revelation. This is especially true in hands as persuasive as those of the Iranian-American harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani.

His new disc of Bach’s Toccatas (Hyperion) conveys the spirit and expressive freedom of these seven early works, for which no single autograph source survives. Some serious detective work is required to address issues of ornamentation and phrasing, colour and clarity, which Bach would have expected to vary according to a performer’s taste. Esfahani, who explains their complex history in a detailed essay, has made his own new performing edition and reveals these familiar pieces to have mysteries we may never have suspected.

• The American pianist Keith Jarrett, mostly celebrated as a virtuosic jazz player but always a devoted performer of classical repertoire, recorded Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier Book I in concert in Troy, in upstate New York, in 1987, a month after his studio recording which was the first in a series of Bach discs. ECM has now released this live version for the first time. “This music does not need my assistance,” Jarrett remarked, noting that it’s “the process of thought” that matters. He never imposes himself in these restrained, elegant performances. Whether or not it’s fanciful to sense an improvisatory mood, this is playing of absolute dexterity and musical fidelity, recorded in a beautifully clear, clean acoustic with the energy of live performance.

• Reminding us that Bach is “authentic” on any instrument, Olivier Latry, the organist of Notre-Dame, Paris, will include the Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565, in his lunchtime Prom today (11am-12.30pm, Radio 3), playing the Royal Albert Hall’s Henry “Father” Willis organ, as well as Bach arrangements by Liszt and Widor and “king of Instrument” showpieces by Khachaturian and Saint-Saëns.

Olivier Latry.
Olivier Latry. Photograph: Deyan Parouchev

Contributor

Fiona Maddocks

The GuardianTramp

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