There is a long and
noble tradition of Bach interpretation
on the piano. These Russian versions
chosen by Hamish Milne make an interesting
contribution to its literature. Milne
has both the technical resource and
the musical imagination to make his
own expressive point in the service
of Bach's remarkable and truly indestructible
music. And taken as a whole his recital,
judged on its own terms, will reward
the listener with much pleasure. The
recorded sound is pleasing, with a sensitive
perspective and abundant clarity.
Some of the arrangers
are better known than others. Alexander
Siloti (1863-1945) was the teacher of
Rachmaninov and himself a pupil of Liszt.
He was therefore a pianist to be taken
seriously, and these impressive transcriptions
bring a new identity to music Bach composed
in various other genres. The Prelude
from the Cantata No. 35 and the beautiful
Siciliano from the E flat Flute Sonata
are highlights of the compilation, but
on the debit side his version of the
famous Air from the Suite No. 3 only
goes to confirm how unpianistic this
string music is.
The contributions of
Alexander Goedicke (1877-1957) confirm
his fine musicianship. Ironically for
someone who made carefully considered
piano transcriptions much of his reputation
was made as an organ virtuoso. Perhaps
what we have here represents a ‘labour
of love’. In the case of Bach, it is
always reasonable to suggest this. At
any rate, Goedicke admitted his admiration
for Ferruccio Busoni, the acknowledged
master in this field, and his efforts
do justice to his example, transferring
his keyboard skill and understanding
to the new medium with some powerful
displays of sonority.
(1904-1987) is the best-known composer
among these arrangers, who enjoyed a
successful career in Soviet Russia.
However, his transcription of the ‘Dorian’
Toccata and Fugue has fewer pianistic
subtleties than its companion pieces.
There is power and sonority in abundance,
but the listener is unlikely to forget
that this is organ music being played
on the piano.
In fact it is the least
known of these arrangers who has provided
the most remarkable of these transcriptions.
Georgy Catoire (1861-1926) made a career
as a mathematician and businessman before
turning to music later in life. But
the delicacy and subtlety of his response
to the challenge of transcribing the
great Passacaglia in C minor are nothing
short of extraordinary.
Through all this Hamish
Milne again and again reveals his pianistic
talents, and his playing also reflects
his love of this demanding yet rewarding