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Music of Tribute: Volume 5 - J S Bach
J.S. BACH (1685 -1750)
Prelude in E minor, BWV 941 [00:53]
Fugue in C, BWV 953 [1:08]
Prelude in C, BWV939 [00:33]
Little Prelude in F, BWV 927 [00:30]
Little Prelude in C, BWV 924 [01:10]
Prelude and Fugue in D (The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2), BWV 874 [7:39]
Little Prelude in C minor, BWV 999 [00:58]
Little Prelude in D, BWV 925 [1:48]
Italian Concerto, BWV 971 [12:31]
Henri DUTILLEUX (b.1916) Hommage à Bach (Au gré des ondes) (1946) [3:00]
Arthur HONEGGER (1892 - 1955) Prelude, Arioso and Fughetta sur le nom de Bach (1932) [6:22]
Leopold GODOWSKY (1870 - 1938) Prelude and Fugue (B.A.C.H.) for the left hand alone (1929) [6:43]
Francis POULENC (1899 - 1963) Valse - Improvisation sur le nom de Bach (1932) [2:14]
Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1887 - 1959) Bachianas Brasileiras No.4 (1930 - 1941) [15:59]
Béla BARTÓK (1881 - 1945) Hommage à J.S.B. (Mikrokosmos Vol III) [1:15]
György KURTÁG (b. 1926) Hommage à J.S.B. (Jàtékok (Games) Vol 3) [00:09]
Terry RILEY (b. 1935) G Song (1973) [1:59]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906 - 1975) Prelude and Fugue No.24 in D minor, op.87 (1950/1951) [11:13]
Beatrice Berthold (piano)
rec. August 2005, Großer Sendesaal, Saarländdischer Rundfunk, Saarbrücken. DDD
LABOR RECORDS LAB 7079 [76:44]

Experience Classicsonline

Music of Tribute, the booklet tells us, “honors great composers by linking their works with music - often unknown, rediscovered or previously unrecorded - that pays homage to them.” The four previous volumes were dedicated to Villa-Lobos, Debussy, Fauré and Scarlatti respectively and only now do we reach the great J.S. Bach. It was well worth the wait for this disk is a very exciting and satisfying look at Bach- inspired, or influenced, works interspersed with works by the master himself. I should point out that the listing isn’t the playing order on the disk.

The delicate traceries of the Prelude in E minor, BWV 941 give way to a piece of French melancholy in Dutilleux’s Hommage à Bach, one of the six pieces which make up his Au gré des ondes (At the will of the waves). There’s a slight whiff of Poulencian nostalgia evident here which is immediately wafted away by the quicksilver Fugue in C, BWV 953 - this is a lovely piece of pianism. Honegger’s Prelude, Arioso and Fughetta sur le nom de Bach, written for his wife, the pianist Andrée Vaurabourg, combines a swift opening movement with a slow, and very solemn, song and an angular fugue, acerbic in language and ending in a somewhat perfunctory way.

The Prelude in C, BWV939 leads into Leopold Godowsky’s rather splendid, and highly romantic Prelude and Fugue for the left hand alone. This is the exact opposite of Honegger’s work, being large-scale and unashamedly 19th century in its outlook and rather anachronistic. I have the feeling that Berthold’s rather lumpy performance is due to the fact that the music doesn’t really sound comfortable - one hand might not necessarily be sufficient to play all the notes. The Little Prelude in F, BWV 927 quickly removes memories of Godowsky’s piece and makes a satisfactory introduction to Poulenc’s delightful Valse.

The stateliness of the Little Prelude in C, BWV 924 is mirrored in the first movement - Preludio - of Villa-Lobos’s Bachianas Brasileiras No.4. If ever a composer nailed his colours to the mast in support of Bach it was Villa-Lobos whose nine works called Bachianas Brasileiras married the German master to the sounds of his native Brazil. In this suite, the second movement - Coral: Canto de Serãto (Song of the Bush) - is a chorale prelude based on a folksong from rural Brazil. It ends with some beautiful, if rather lonely, birdsong. The third - Aria: Cantiga (Sobre un tema de Nordeste) - is based on a song from North East Brazil and includes some quite fantastic writing in the middle section. The final Dansa is the equivalent of a Bach Gigue and makes a worthy successor to the composer’s inspiration.

The only excerpt from Bach’s keyboard masterpiece Das wohltemperirte Clavier - the Prelude and Fugue in D BWV 874 - is quickly followed by the Little Prelude in C minor, BWV 999. These pieces preface three more recent compositions by Bartók - the gentle Hommage à J.S.B. from volume 3 of Mikrokosmos - Kurtag - the minuscule Hommage à J.S.B. from volume 3 of Jàtékok (Games) - and Terry Riley’s freewheeling G Song. The latter was written for a Dutch film and is also known in a version for string quartet, which has been recorded by the Kronos Quartet.

The Little Prelude in D, BWV 925 serves as a taster for the last of Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes and Fugues, a true act of homage from a master to a master. The Italian Concerto, BWV 971 makes a fine encore to a recital which has much to recommend it - fine pianism, an interesting programme, good notes and an advocacy which goes beyond the mere playing of the notes - Berthold quite obviously really cares for this music and her passion is clearly evident in every bar she plays. You’ll want to hear more of her as well as more of these composers.

Bob Briggs  

see also review by Colin Clarke


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