A Vigorous, Colorful, Purist Bach Album From Harpsichordist Aya Hamada

by delarue

Harpsichordist Aya Hamada’s new recording of Bach works, primarily from the Klavierubung – streaming at Spotify – is for passionate fans who expect performers to embrace all the color, and humor, and kaleidoscopic wizardry in the composer’s work. It satisfies on all counts. Hamada recorded it on a magnificently responsive seventeenth century Ruckers harpsichord at the Neuchatel Museum in Switzerland about a year ago.

The first piece is the Toccata in D Major, BWV 912, which is not the iconic one heard in innumerable horror movie scores. This piece is more expansive – it’s actually a triptych – and in its darkest moments, it’s plaintive rather than outright macabre. Hamada’s pouncing attack in the lefthand in the early going is balanced later by the poignancy of her single-note lines – as the liner notes allude, the middle segment would fit seamlessly into the Cello Suites. Hamada’s ornamentation is colorful but judicious, her tempo resolutely steady. This is not an album for people who want to hear Bach played with arioso bombast or pregnant pauses.

It sets the stage for the rest of the record. Next, Hamada tackles the Italian Concerto in F Major, BWV 971. Spring-loaded trills and a tightly wound internal swing are central to Hamada’s approach in the faster passages. She loosens her vise grip a little in the rainy-day midsection.

There’s a spiky feast of flourishes intermingled with triumphantly icepick precision and balletesque litheness in the Overture in the French Style in B Minor, BWV 831. Hamada closes with Skip Sempe’s transcription of the Chaconne in D Minor from the Violin Partita No. 2, BWV 1004, and it’s here where the drama reaches toward the High Romantic. Composers of Bach’s era and before were keenly aware of the value of flexible scores, and this validates that, not only in context but as a showcase for solo keyboard poignancy and majesty.