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Walter RUMMEL (1887-1953)
The Complete Bach Transcriptions

Ertoedt’ uns durch dein’ Guete BWV 22 [3:41]
Ach wie nichtig, ach wir fluechtig BWV 26 [3:09]
Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier BWV 731 [4:55]
Vater unser im Himmelreich BWV 760 [4:40]
Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan BWV 99 [5:16]
Das alte Jahr vergangen ist BWV 614 [3:24]
Jesus Christus, Gottes Sohn BWV 4 [3:38]
Wir eilen mit schwachen, doch emsigen Schritten BWV 78 [5:16]
Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen BWV 12 [4:28]
Mein Glaeubiges Herze, frohlocke, sing, scherze BWV 68 [2:13]
O Menschen, di ihr taeglich suendigt BWV122 [5:35]
Das Brausen von den rauhen Winden BWV 92 [4:28]
Die Welt ist wie ein Rauch und Schatten BWV 94 [4:37]
Zu Tanze, zu Sprunge BWV 201 [7:40]
Wir muessen durch viel Truebsal BWV 146 [10:48]
Dein Name gleich der Sonnen geh BWV 173a [3:09]
Lass dich nimmer von der Liebe beruecken BWV 203 [6:51]
Stuerze zu Boden BWV 126 [5:24]
Dich hab’ ich je und je geliebt BWV 49 [5:23]
O Gott, du frommer Gott! BWV 94 [4:56]
Esurientes implevit bonis BWV 243 [3:55]
Gelobet sei mein Gott BWV 129 [4:09]
Die Seele ruht in Jesu Haenden BWV 127 [11:51]
Herr Gott, dich loben alle wir BWV 130 [5:00]
Vom Himmel hoch, da komm’ ich her BWV 248 [6:11]
Jonathan Plowright (piano)
rec. Potton Hall, Suffolk, 7-10 July 2005
HYPERION CDA67481/2 [64:31 + 69:11]

 

This disc continues the interesting series — now in its sixth volume — of Bach transcriptions for piano that Hyperion has been presenting to the public. This began with volume 1 of Busoni’s transcriptions in 1992 with Nikolai Demidenko, continuing with other transcribers through Friedman, Percy Grainger, Samuil Feinberg, Catoire, Siloti, Kabalevsky and Goedicke. As evidenced by the pieces previously transcribed in this series, the works of this volume represent a section of Bach’s output not nearly as frequently transcribed — his cantatas.

Walter Rummel is not a name widely known, though he was a performer of repute beginning in the mid- to late-1920s, He focused especially on Germanic piano literature, but also admitted pieces by Liszt, Ravel and Villa-Lobos. He knew Debussy and premiered a number of his works. He was born and raised in Berlin — a grandson of telegraph pioneer Samuel Morse - to pianist parents. His mother was an amateur performer; his father the then-well-known Franz Rummel. He studied with Godowsky and, though holding American citizenship, had a career almost entirely in Europe. Walter Rummel performed as soloist under the baton of many names familiar to us — Henry Wood, Felix Weingartner, Reynaldo Hahn. His reputation declined due to unfortunate judgment in the late 1930s and early 1940s, where he performed in Germany and the countries it occupied during the war. Eventually Germany gave the ultimatum that they wouldn’t protect him unless he gave up his American citizenship. He did so in 1944. He continued to perform into the 1950s, dying eventually of spinal cancer in 1953. He also composed, with his songs proving the most lasting in popularity. Other works of his are now considered lost, including a piano concerto and a string quartet.

Usually it is the great organ works that get the attention of transcribers: the toccatas and fugues, the trio sonatas, the monumental Passacaglia and Fugue BWV582. In adapting - not transcribing - the cantata pieces for piano Rummel sets on the table a greater amount of work for himself in that he must deal with funnelling eight or more simultaneous melodic lines into a version that ten human fingers can play. Not all of these pieces are as challenging as that, but many present formidable difficulties to the pianist. One such example is the rapid-fire and heavily chordal overture from Cantata 26 which appears on disc one. In spite of the difficulties in making this sound phrasal, Plowright communicates the angst found in the music and the text while still making it sound pianistic; a truly virtuosic three minutes.

It isn’t only the bravura bits from the cantatas that are represented here. The first disc opens with the beautiful chorale from cantata 22 and it is here in such tranquil pieces that the quiet beauty of Bach’s writing shines through the adaptation. Plowright’s playing has definition and clarity while maintaining a tone less sharp-edged than what one would imagine if Glenn Gould were playing these pieces. In comparison, one sees similarity to Tatiana Nikolaeva’s playing of the Well-tempered Clavier. The wonderful adaptation of the organ prelude BWV 731, "Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier" is greatly enjoyable in this recording, not suffering the least from being performed on an instrument without a flute stop.

The set also caters for enthusiasts of Bach instrumental music who happen not to be terribly familiar with the many cantatas. We have, on disc 2, the overture from Cantata 146, which is an earlier version of the first movement of the much more widely-known Concerto in d minor BWV 1052, here performed as a one-piano version of the entire movement. Octave doublings do occur, as well as some nods to the virtuosic, which may offend the more rigid purists out there, but this transcription has energy, fire, and, what’s more, a sensitive understanding of what Bach’s music is about. Plowright performs exceedingly well throughout. Rubato abounds, especially in what would be the cadenza section of the piano concerto. However this isn’t Lisztian Bach so much as some new perspective that refracts the original orchestration into something with less of a focus on the performer and more of a focus on Bach’s music.

Of the four series of adaptations Rummel committed to paper, most, as mentioned, focus on the cantatas. The last series, of which only four of the seven survive, leaned toward the chorale preludes. Of the pieces still extant, we have a fantastic transcription of "Die Seele ruht in Jesu Haenden" from cantata 127, which simply stops the show. Arpeggiations with the sustain pedal form the piano version of the original strings. Plowright’s wonderful voicing brings out the solo part in a beautiful twelve minutes of heart-rending devotion. The recording is what one would expect from Hyperion, with close, crisp miking that holds some ambience but isn’t cold or sterile. Overall, these adaptations straddle the line between the Bach aesthetic and that of Liszt so popular at the time. Octave doublings abound and some ornamentation isn’t Bachian, but one can’t fail to feel the great sense of devotion that Rummel communicates for the works he has transcribed. That devotion carries through to Plowright’s performances, which are exceptional.

David Blomenberg

 



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