Here we have four of Bach’s seven completed solo keyboard concertos: S 1052, 1054, 1056, 1058. These are absolutely beautiful piano performances by Maltese pianist Micallef. She was trained in Malta, Italy, and Great Britain. Every dynamic capability of the piano is used, especially long crescendos and diminuendos. Bach would probably not have had this ability with the instruments of his day, but would heartily approve if he heard this performance. There is a precision in the ensemble that I credit to conductor Schembri. Many of my other recordings of these works are conducted by the pianist or harpsichordist from the keyboard, which would be historically accurate. The attention to detail, especially at the slight ritardandos at the end of sections and movements, make these performances as perfect as I have ever heard.
Micallef’s chamber music and accompanist credentials are clearly behind her approach to these works. I’d prefer a little more piano concerto feel, but her approach is perfectly in style and appropriate. The piano by its very nature stands out a bit from the string texture, and the recording balances are quite good, so chalk up my desire for more brilliance in the piano part to growing up on the big romantic literature. Micallef subtly blends her doubling of the bass line with the strings when the solo part is tacet.
This wonderful recording makes me hope for another that would complete the set (and maybe add in Brandenburg Concerto 5 and the A-minor Triple Concerto, S 1044?). Divine Art’s booklet notes and production values are up to their usual high quality, and they have found a sensitive and engaging new pianist. More will be most welcome.