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Piano Transcriptions by Junichi Steven Sato (b. 1973)
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Passacaglia and Fugue in c minor for Organ BWV 582 [13:35]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)

Psalm XIII (1855) [23:13]
Cesar FRANCK (1822-1890) transc. Alfred Cortot (1877-1962)

Violin Sonata in A (1886) [29:31]
Junichi Steven Sato (piano)
rec. 20, 23-24 August 2004, DePaul University Concert Hall, Chicago
SATO MUSIC EDITIONS SME 1001 [66:43]

I was quite excited to find this disc had been sent to me for review — there are not many piano transcriptions of Bach’s monumental and difficult passacaglia out there. The only other that I found briefly available is the amazing performance by Igor Zhukov playing his own transcription for Melodiya back in 1966 (the BMG/Melodiya item number is 74321-33214-2 nla).

This transcription, as with the Zhukov, is the performer’s own, and depending on your preferences regarding how Bach should sound, you may choose one over the other. When I say ‘how Bach should sound’, I refer not to organ vs. piano. I’d probably be more clear if I said ‘how Bach should be played’, referring to tempi, interior voices in the counterpoint and dynamics. Zhukov sticks closely to a strict tempo, as well as to an approximation of the various stops of the organ that are present in the original version of the piece. It is played like Bach, with allegiance less to pianism than to the instrument for which the work was originally written. It sounds like an organ piece transcribed for piano.

Sato, here, plays Bach much as one would play Chopin or Liszt - and it is no surprise that a Liszt piece is next in the track listing; this may rub some the wrong way. Sato’s approach shows his allegiance to the pianistic. It sounds like a Liszt adaptation of the piece. Romanticisms abound; the basso ostinato opening is far slower than the Zhukov or the organ performances of the work I have heard, but by halfway in, he is going at a clip very much faster than when he first started. There is much rubato and some things get lost in the shuffle that remain clear in the Zhukov. Much is here that is amazing, but the flashiness and inclusion of things for effect (glissandi at the end of the fugue — in Bach?) may stand in the way of enjoyment for some. The piece shines through, but in comparison, this reviewer recommends the Zhukov transcription.

The transcription Sato does next, of Liszt’s Psalm 13, is a more comfortable fit. The piece opens with the piano rolling in the bass and a three note figure - the same descending figure, it turns out, as the opening notes in Rachmaninov’s Prelude in c-sharp minor, transposed up a fifth. This is Liszt that sounds like Liszt and is played like Liszt, in perfect keeping with Liszt’s own many transcriptions. The program notes indicate that the piece is not a particularly pianistic work, which is certainly true, but Sato here does very well in bringing a piece for tenor, chorus and orchestra into the repertoire of the piano.

An additional great treat is the transcription of Franck’s violin sonata in A, as transcribed by piano virtuoso Alfred Cortot. I was not previously aware of such a transcription, and Cortot’s inclusion of the singing violin line here is done with great artistry, sometimes needing to shift octaves to make the piece playable by a mere two hands.

The playing here is superb, and I recommend this disc for the Liszt-Sato and the Franck-Cortot. Regarding the passacaglia, I recommend the Zhukov over this, but this disc is an impressive and ambitious program worthy of notice.


David Blomenberg

 

 



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