The treasure chest of keyboard works by JS Bach is so deep that musicians face the challenge of choosing which pieces to perform. On his new disc, harpsichordist Hank Knox solves this pleasurable dilemma by playing works from different periods of the master’s career. The programme celebrates both Bach’s extraordinary compositional skills and his instrumental wizardry.
The harpsichord, by technical nature, isn’t capable of much variation in dynamics or nuance but Knox is such a sensitive and articulate musician that he brings shapely finesse to each selection. Through subtle alteration of tempo and phrasing, as well as stylish application of ornaments, he reflects the blazing brilliance Bach was said to have achieved in performance.
With the harpsichord recorded up close so that you even hear every sound of the mechanical action, listening to Knox is something akin to sitting next to him. He unfolds the Toccata In E minor, BWV914, with bold intensity, especially the cascading fugue.
The improvisational aspects of the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue, BWV903, receive vibrant and malleable treatment, the fugue again buoyant and finely textured (as is his account of the Ricercar from the Musical Offering and the second section of the Fantasia in C minor, BWV906).
Along with fugal intricacies, Knox savours Bach’s dance rhythms. The many movements of the Overture in the French Style that closes the disc are opportunities for the harpsichordist to exult in the lilting and extravagant creativity at the tip of the composer’s own fingertips.
Donald Rosenberg, Gramophone, January 2014