Canto Oscuro
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) / Ferruccio BUSONI (1866-1924)
Ich ruf zu Dir, Herr Jesu Christ BWV 639 [3:39]
Sofia GUBAIDULINA (b. 1931)
Chaconne [11:45]
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
“1922” - Suite für Klavier [18:26]
Johann Sebastian BACH/ Ferruccio BUSONI
Nun komm’ der Heiden Heiland BWV 659 [5:31]
Chaconne (from the Partita for violin solo, BWV 1004)[16:20]
Johann Sebastian BACH/ Alexander SILOTI (1863-1945)
Prelude in B minor [3:39]
Anna Gourari (piano)
rec. May 2011, Historischer Reitstadel, Neumarkt
ECM NEW SERIES 2255 [59:45]

Wikipedia has the quote, “Gourari is regarded as a non-conformist. Her playing has some kind of mysticism, but is most notably very accurate.” Well thank heavens for that. This is Anna Gourari’s debut for ECM and a very fine recording it is too, presented as a set of Canto Oscuro or ‘dark songs’, and this is indeed a full-fat recital which will make you think again about works both familiar and less so.
J.S. Bach’s chorale prelude Ich ruf zu Dir, Herr Jesu Christ is moving in almost any context, but Busoni’s added pianistic depths are applied with such poetic restraint in this recording that we are on our knees and praying at full faith straight away. This is the kind of atmospheric, romantic Bach which we’ve learned not to love too much of late, but I have to admit a weakness for this kind of treatment, and I admire Anna Gourari’s gorgeously gentle touch, which sets us up for the rest of the programme… and heightens the shock as we are jumped out of our reverie through the explosive opening of Sofia Gubaidulina’s Chaconne. This is by no means as scary as some contemporary pieces for piano, with the spirit of Bach very much present. Gourari takes her time with this piece, making it a good 11:45 when compared to the more usual 8:40 brought to us by Béatrice Rauchs on BIS-CD-853. The added weight given to the piece tells in features such as the repeated notes and ostinato, which in no way dance as they do in Rauchs’ performance. This is presumably part of the ‘dark’ aspect of this recital’s concept, and turns the Chaconne into something more symphonic than we’ve come across before. This is a powerful interpretation and, like many of the other performances here, sweeps away preconceptions about how certain pieces should normally ‘go’, and this is no bad thing.
I last came across Hindemith’s “1922” - Suite für Klavier in Boris Berezovsky’s big box from Teldec (see review). Berezovsky doesn’t pull any punches, but if anything Gourari is more extreme, for instance pulling the Shimmy into a beefy 3:42 to Berezovsky’s 2:50. You’d be forgiven for not recognising it as the same piece, but Gourari knows what she’s doing - exploring Hindemith’s grim ironies with a more artful touch, and giving the quicksilver changes of mood and pace a chance to speak. Her dance can be George Grosz grotesque, but this is a powerfully argued and valid point of view. Similar things can be said about the Nachtstück movement, which at times approaches a kind of Varklärte Nacht passion in this recording. Hindemith’s Suite has more often than not been deposited in the amusing ‘jazz influenced’ category, but Anna Gourari shakes us out of such superficial labelling and gives us the full drama and at times even horror in the work.
The final three tracks are more Bach, with deep shadows cast by the sonorities of Nun komm der Heiden Heiland in another Busoni arrangement. His version of the Chaconne from the BWV 1004 violin Partita is probably the best known one for piano. At 16:20, Gourari’s reading is on the longer side of average but not by much - there are no shocking extremes or quirks in operation here, just a very satisfying and involving performance of a timeless masterpiece. Gourari’s restraint is in evidence all over the place here, and even where the temperature rises she maintains transparency and a feeling of power in reserve - grown-up Bach rather than with everything thrown into the pot all at once.
A Russian pianist’s Bach programme wouldn’t be complete without something from Alexander Siloti, and his transcription of the Prelude in B minor concludes this superb recording in a mood of meditative reflection. This is a very well-considered and beautifully executed recital, and one which deserves a place in any collection. Romantic Bach and the challenging worlds of two more or less contemporary masters provide a stimulus rather than a reason to shy away, and this ‘dark song’ is one which resonates in the mind and haunts long after the sounds have stopped.
Dominy Clements

Beautiful, haunting and stimulating.