Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Piano Transcriptions Vol. 8 - Eugen D'Albert

Passacaglia in C minor BWV582 [10:49]
Fantasia and Fugue in C minor BWV537 [7:41]
Prelude and Fugue in G major BWV541 [6:12]
Toccata and Fugue in F major BWV540 [12:57]
Prelude and Fugue in A major BWV536 [5:39]
Prelude and Fugue in F minor BWV534 [8:50]
Toccata and Fugue in D minor 'Dorian' BWV538 [12:12]
Prelude and Fugue in D major BWV532 [9:43]
Piers Lane (piano)
rec. Henry Wood Hall, London 18-21 June 2009
HYPERION CDA67709 [74:06]

This is the eighth volume in Hyperion’s Bach Piano Transcription series. Of the previous issues the one that has kept me most engrossed - though given the all-round excellence of both transcriptions and performances this is a close run thing - has been Hamish Milne’s take on the Russian tradition in CDA67506. The noble seriousness of the undertaking and the rewarding mediation that Milne brings are lasting pleasures. It doesn’t hinder matters that the recital ranges quite widely, and contains music of directly appealing lyric beauty. Volume 8 is not that kind of disc, because it focuses on Eugen d’Albert’s transcriptions of Preludes and Fugues and the Passacaglia in C minor, BWV582.

D’Albert, who lived to make recordings, was a formidable musician and an equally formidable man famous for his multiplicity of wives. He and Busoni were the leading transcribers of Bach’s piano music of the time. D’Albert certainly didn’t approve of his coeval’s efforts, and disliked Busoni’s transcription of the Chaconne, which was actually dedicated to him in 1893. He felt it was too thickly textured. What d’Albert disliked here and elsewhere were things such as Busoni’s chordal doubling, his big, thick textures, bass extensions and organ swell impersonations. For d’Albert this must have seemed like meretricious swank. His own transcriptions were, unlike his verbal pronouncements generally, modest, refined, and straightforward. He doesn’t seek to emulate Busoni’s pealing grandeur, and he would have had equally little time for a Busoni adherent from a later generation such as Gunnar Johansen who followed his master’s precepts into the mid twentieth century and well beyond.

Indeed Johansen’s own transcription of the Passacaglia in C minor, which has recently been released on an unnumbered promotional disc from the Johansen Foundation, bears all the hallmarks of a post-Busonian organ drama, utilizing a double keyboard Bösendorfer. The sonorities are gargantuan; Busoni and Stokowski squared. D’Albert by contrast is far, far more circumspect and faithful. Sonorities are built up, but the differences are extreme and reveal a vastly different methodology, an unbridgeable aesthetic gulf. The Preludes and Fugues demonstrate a similarly close focus on the essential core of the music. Piers Lane locates the extraordinary prefiguring of the Prelude of the C minor BWV537; its harmonic sense, its sense of character, its fantastico quality are duly revealed and honoured. The accents of the G major Fugue are crisply judged, the playing gradually increasingly grand, to notable effect. The pealing authority of the bass notes in the Toccata Prelude of the F major and Lane’s cultivation of an ochre sonority are both magisterial and within the bounds of d’Albert’s authorised expression And the briefly elliptical and unsettling start to the D major Prelude BWV532 is conveyed with unostentatious directness by Lane.

His playing throughout is communicative, adroit and imaginative and he has been afforded a fine acoustic.

Jonathan Woolf

Communicative, adroit and imaginative playing