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Music of Tribute - Volume 5: J. S. BACH
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Preludes: E minor, BWV941 [0:53]; C, BWV939 [0:33]; Clavierbüchlein (1722/23) – Fugue in C minor, BWV953 [1:08]; Prelude in F, BWV927 [0:30]; Little Preludes: C, BWV924 (1720) [1:10]; D, BWV925 [1:48]; Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2 (1738-1742): Prelude and Fugue in D, BWV874 [7:39]; Prelude in C minor, BWV999 (c1725) [0:58]; Italian Concerto, BWV971 (1735) [12:31]
Henri DUTILLEUX (b. 1916) Au gré des ondes (1946) - Hommage à Bach [3:00]
Arthur HONEGGER (1892-1955) Prelude-Arioso-Fughetta sur le nom de Bach (1932) [6:22]
Leopold GODOWSKY (1870-1938) Prelude and Fugue (B.A.C.H.) (1929) [6:43]
Francis POULENC (1899-1963) Valse-Improvisation sur le nom de BACH (1932) [2:14]
Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1887-1959) Bachianas Brasilieras No. 4 (1941) [15:59]
Bela BARTÓK (1881-1945) Mikrokosmos III, Sz107 (1926-1939) – No. 79, Hommage à J.S.B. [1:15]
György KURTÁG (b. 1926) Játékok III: Hommage à J.S.B. [0:09]
Terry RILEY (b. 1935) G Song (1973/1985) [1:59]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975) Prelude and Fugue in D minor, Op. 87/24 (1950/51) [11:33]
Beatrice Berthold (piano)
rec. Grosser Sendesaal, Saarländischer Rundfunk, Saarbrücken, Germany, August 2005. DDD
LABOR RECORDS LAB 7079 [76:44]
Experience Classicsonline


This is a great idea, and one delivered with great suavité by German pianist Beatrice Berthold. Her family, incidentally, hails from Leipzig, a place with strong Bach associations.

The purity Berthold reveals in the little E minor Prelude, BWV941 finds a more modern, Debussian foil in Dutilleux’s “Hommage à Bach”. The latter comes from a 1946 set of six piano pieces written whilst the composer was director of French Radio. It is ultra-beautiful and restrained. The Fugue in C minor, BWV953 lasts a mere minute, running all the while and basking in Berthold’s exemplary articulation. The feeling of notes “running” spills over into the Prelude of Honegger’s Prelude-Arioso-Fughetta sur le nom de Bach. The Arioso is a lonely, desolate single line over what is, effectively, a pizzicato accompaniment. The Fugue presents the spikiest music so far and provides ample demonstration of Berthold’s fine staccato touch.

The little Prelude, BWV939 – 33 second duration - serves mainly as a reminder of the “pure Bach” before we embark on Godowsky’s impressive Prelude and Fugue (B.A.C.H.) for the left-hand. Dedicated to the pianist Arthur Loesser (1894-1969), it was written for Godowsky himself to play; the composer had suffered a stroke that had limited the use of his right hand. Berthold plays with real grandeur and a sense of space. A pity the recording is somewhat muddy in the bass range.

Gallic charm suffuses Poulenc’s contribution - dedicated to Horowitz, by the way. Berthold changes the score at the end, from a tone cluster to an octave statement of the B-A-C-H motif. If the Little Prelude of Bach, BWV924 includes surprising grandeur, the first movement of the ensuing Villa-Lobos breathes a sense of unhurried space. Berthold successfully captures the mix of flamboyance and nostalgia this music conjures up, with the final “Dansa” being particularly unbuttoned.

The D major Prelude and Fugue from Book II of the Well-Tempered provides the most substantial Bach offering so far. There is real nobility to Berthold’s Prelude, and real concentration to her sombre Fugue.

The spare textures of the Bartók lead to the nine-second gesture of the Kurtág, more an inserted comment than anything else in this context. The Riley includes some remarkably slushy moments within its jazz/minimalism axis. Again, the appearance of a small amount of Bach (BWV925) acts as a palate-cleanser and reminder of where all this started. Then comes Shostakovich’s grand D-minor Prelude and Fugue - written for the bicentennial of Bach’s death - asserting its granitic presence. Berthold’s pacing is extremely well-judged here.

Berthold ends with the Italian Concerto, an excellent, exuberant sign-off. Her articulation is spot-on, especially in the busy finale.

This is a well-planned disc that is superbly delivered by Berthold.

Colin Clarke

see also review by Bob Briggs



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