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|Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
“Nun komm’ der Heiden Heiland” - excerpts from the Well Tempered
Clavier: Book I (BWV 847, 851, 852, 854-857, 860, 862, 864, 866,
by Bach (transc. Busoni) and Brahms
Edna Stern (piano)
rec. Studio Sequenza (Montreuil 93), April 2008
Great music intelligently put together and terrifically played.
This latest Bach recording on the ZigZag Territoires label is
all but assured a spot among my favorite recordings of this year.
Edna Stern is a student of Krystian Zimerman and Leon Fleisher.
If she had only played a selection of Preludes
and Fugues from the Well Tempered Clavier, and even if she had
played them as well as she does on “Nun komm’ der Heiden Heiland”,
the disc might have gotten a spin, a very favorable notice,
and then slipped into the recesses of my Bach saturated mind.
But sending three Prelude & Fugue pairs into the race, preceded
by a transcribed Bach chorale each - one of these four Chorale/Prelude
packages comes with Brahms’ Bach-like op.122 no.5, instead -
lifts it well above the pack of Bach-on-the-Piano recitals.
“Nun komm’ der Heiden Heiland” starts with the eponymous chorale
(BWV 659) in Busoni’s transcription. Stern’s idea is to treat
Bach as a vocal and orchestral composer. Apart from justification
for playing harpsichord works on the piano - as if any was still
necessary – this frees her to explore all the advantages of
the piano’s range of shades and colors, rather than treating
it ‘harpsichordesque’. Might as well, when the result is Bach
in such luxuriant sound, indulgent in beauty, yet never fussy.
Consciously working her way from C minor to E-flat
major, she not only excels in “Schmuecke dich O liebe Seele” (Brahms),
Ich ruf’zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ (BWV 639 from Das Orgelbüchlein
Part 3, trans. Busoni), and “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme”
(BWV 645 from Cantata BWV 140, trans. Busoni), but in several
Fugues and especially Preludes, too. BWV 855 in E minor, 851 in
D minor, and 866 B-flat Major are gorgeous renditions that would
do any pianist proud. With such a very different concept and content
than Alexandre Tharaud’s Concertos italiens — my
Bach-on-Piano CD of choice above all others — it’s not surprising
that Mlle. Stern’s performance appeals in dissimilar ways. More
something for the mind and reflection rather than the happily
emotional recital of the Frenchman; doubtless a disc any Bach
lover would find him- or herself marveling at.
Jens F Laurson
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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