This is a great
idea, and one delivered with great suavité by German pianist
Beatrice Berthold. Her family, incidentally, hails from Leipzig,
a place with strong Bach associations.
The purity Berthold
reveals in the little E minor Prelude, BWV941 finds a more modern,
Debussian foil in Dutilleux’s “Hommage ŕ Bach”. The latter comes
from a 1946 set of six piano pieces written whilst the composer
was director of French Radio. It is ultra-beautiful and restrained.
The Fugue in C minor, BWV953 lasts a mere minute, running all
the while and basking in Berthold’s exemplary articulation.
The feeling of notes “running” spills over into the Prelude
of Honegger’s Prelude-Arioso-Fughetta sur le nom de Bach.
The Arioso is a lonely, desolate single line over what is, effectively,
a pizzicato accompaniment. The Fugue presents the spikiest music
so far and provides ample demonstration of Berthold’s fine staccato
The little Prelude,
BWV939 – 33 second duration - serves mainly as a reminder of
the “pure Bach” before we embark on Godowsky’s impressive Prelude
and Fugue (B.A.C.H.) for the left-hand. Dedicated to the
pianist Arthur Loesser (1894-1969), it was written for Godowsky
himself to play; the composer had suffered a stroke that had
limited the use of his right hand. Berthold plays with real
grandeur and a sense of space. A pity the recording is somewhat
muddy in the bass range.
Gallic charm suffuses
Poulenc’s contribution - dedicated to Horowitz, by the way.
Berthold changes the score at the end, from a tone cluster to
an octave statement of the B-A-C-H motif. If the Little Prelude
of Bach, BWV924 includes surprising grandeur, the first movement
of the ensuing Villa-Lobos breathes a sense of unhurried space.
Berthold successfully captures the mix of flamboyance and nostalgia
this music conjures up, with the final “Dansa” being particularly
The D major Prelude
and Fugue from Book II of the Well-Tempered provides
the most substantial Bach offering so far. There is real nobility
to Berthold’s Prelude, and real concentration to her sombre
The spare textures of the Bartók lead to the
nine-second gesture of the Kurtág, more an inserted comment
than anything else in this context. The Riley includes some
remarkably slushy moments within its jazz/minimalism axis. Again,
the appearance of a small amount of Bach (BWV925) acts as a
palate-cleanser and reminder of where all this started. Then
comes Shostakovich’s grand D-minor Prelude and Fugue - written
for the bicentennial of Bach’s death - asserting its granitic
presence. Berthold’s pacing is extremely well-judged here.
Berthold ends with the Italian Concerto,
an excellent, exuberant sign-off. Her articulation is spot-on,
especially in the busy finale.
This is a well-planned disc that is superbly
delivered by Berthold.
see also review
by Bob Briggs