English Suites, Andras Schiff.
Decca 421 640-2/433 313-2.
Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue,
Agi Jambor, Capitol LP P-8348
WTK, João Carlos Martins
(1964 ADD), Connoisseur Society CD 4241/2
Martins began his project of recording
the complete Bach keyboard works on
the piano forty years ago. The project
was interrupted several times, but is
now again underway, and Labor Records
has announced that they will release
the entire set.
At the time of his
earliest recordings, Bach on the piano
was not so respectable as it is now,
and Martins’ style was shocking to some,
particularly Glenn Gould fans who believed
their idol was 100% authentic in his
piano style (he wasn’t) and hence who
thought of Martins as a rebel, a renegade.
I have Martins’ 1964 complete WTK
and love every minute of it, but then
sometimes I’m easy.
Agi Jambor, also Mrs.
Claude Rains, studied with Edwin Fischer
and taught at the Peabody Conservatory.
She launched her career as a Bach pianist
on Capitol Records just in time to have
herself blown offstage by Glenn Gould’s
spectacular debut recording. Her thoughtful
but affecting Bach style illuminated
much in these scores and these monophonic
recordings are long overdue for re-release
on CD. Mrs. Rains thereafter hated Glenn
Gould, and when her husband proposed
to collaborate with Gould she threw
a violently uninhibited tantrum in the
recording studio determined to wreck
the project — unsuccessfully, it turned
out, and the recording continued. Whether
you would invite Mrs. Rains to your
party or not, her Bach playing is wonderful
and you should have the chance to hear
Bach on the piano is
now more respectable, and as time passes,
Martins’ star has risen. More people
would approve of Agi Jambor than would
approve of Martins. There are critics
driven to purple faced apoplexy upon
hearing Mr. Martins, and just as many
who think he’s a genius. I think it
is good news that his recordings will
be available again, especially the earlier
ones. Impulsiveness comes more naturally
to a 24 year old pianist than to a 54
year old. Martins does what he wants.
He both ignores ornaments that are in
the score and adds some that are not.
He ignores repeats and adds others.
He not only ornaments but embellishes
the slow movements with cadenzas, flourishes,
apoggiaturas, passing tones—you name
it. Sometimes he sounds like Glenn Gould,
sometimes like Paderewski. If you would
argue that he has "no right"
to do these things, then you shouldn’t
listen to these recordings.
As for this recording,
much as I hate to agree with Raymond
Tuttle, I would argue in favor of Mr.
Martins’ right to play the music his
way, and recommend that many will really
like it this way. Genuine individuality
is rare in recordings made these days.
The digital recorded sound is excellent,
the piano technique is clean, controlled,
and detailed. That said, I must then
say that I prefer Schiff on the English
Suites and Jambor on the Chromatic
Fantasy and Fugue. They both achieve
a sense of freedom while staying very
much in view of the score; their pianism
illuminates aspects of the music in
ways that the harpsichord cannot.