It seems that after an artist's career has been established (Rousset in this case), that they can begin to explore the outer reaches of repertoire and either because of their desire, or their ability given their stature, begin to concentrate on aesthetic matters like what instrument is used.
In this case, Rousset explores a number of Bach works in 800-900 range of the BWV on a restored historic instrument from 1632 (Ruckers). Its compass was expanded in 1745. Great technique and a good instrument are only part of making good record; you also need the instrument to be well-captured by the recording engineers. In this case, all the right ingredients came together.
The liner notes describe this collection of "odd pieces" as a "beautiful bouquet." I had recently heard Rousset in concert (with French repertoire, which incidentally is where most of my Rousset collection is centered), and I was interested in his take on Bach. Knowing that many recordings of the big collections had already been made (Goldberg-Variationen, French/Anglais suiten, etc.) I wondered what might be the impetus to returning to some of the "unknown" Bach.
I'd characterize Rousset's tempi as "middle of the road" - he never takes anything too fast or too slow. There was a little rushing in track 18, the prelude in BWV 894, but for the most part, his tempi are pretty regular. And that's what I admire about some performances on piano - some performers feel it's appropriate to take rubato approaches which I sometimes really like in Bach. We have seen this approach in instrumental music (more often than not from Italian performers) such as violin sonatas and even concertos, but the practice playing with the regular-ness of tempo is more foreign I've found in keyboard music. Seeing Rousset live, he did take some liberties in this regard with early French music, but I think it could have worked here in Bach, too.
This album is otherwise well-played. The programmatic piece BWV 992 (Capriccio on the departure of a beloved brother) is included. It is the most "un-Bach" like piece in the set. The CD also includes BWV 989, an Aria with Variations. This piece was new to me, but gives us another example of Bach's take on theme and variations other than the Goldbergs. Taking one or two pieces at a time can be a lot of fun, it's like exploring some kind of lost art. The "fughetta" in E-flat major is a good example of the kind of gem you'll find along the way (BWV 998). The piece may not be too familiar, but all of a sudden it will make you smile.
This CD is going to appeal to fans of Bach who haven't yet explored his full compass of works for solo keyboard. While it is high art, the repertoire might not be his most strong; it is well performed, however, on a stunningly beautiful instrument. And well done as it is, there are likely more interpretatively-daring offerings with some of this repertoire. But as far as harpsichord editions go, this is definitely one to consider.