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Here we have harpsichord works on CDs 1 and 3, and organ works on CD2. An 18th-century harpsichord in Château d’Assas and a copy of Carl Conrad Fleischer of 1720 are both fine- sounding, and well recorded, while the organ is the Andreas Silbermann of 1710 in Marmoutier. Benjamin Alard attempts to give some context to the French style in Bach’s output, which in some respects he achieves. The harpsichord discs are more successful than that for organ, containing mainly suites by Bach, some not so well- known. The ‘English’ Suite in A minor BWV 807 illustrates Alard’s fine playing, well-paced and with a lovely sense of style. This can also be heard in the F major ‘English’ suite, where subtle inégalité is quite correctly introduced. A fine Praeludium & Chaconne by Fischer, and two works by François Couperin neatly link with other music that will have influenced Bach.

On the organ CD, the French influence is marked simply by the nature of the organ, perfect in works by Grigny and Raison, and instructive in two groups of Bach chorales with such a French flavour. However, the Pièce d’orgue suffers from an excessively fast opening section, and given the ornamented arpeggio notation of the final section, it is odd that this is played so very slowly. The final major work is the Passacaglia, which really is too fast, making much of the intricate passagework a scramble, and hardly giving the organ time to breathe. The link between Passacaglia and Fugue is musically disastrous, as it makes the fugue appear to start on the second note of the subject! So buy this set for the lovely harpsichord playing, but it is disappointing in those major organ works.

DOUGLAS HOLLICK Read the full review on Agora Classica

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