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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Partita for solo violin No.2, BWV1004; Chaconne in D minor arr. Ferrucio Busoni [13:19]
Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ from Orgel-Büchlein, BWV639 arr. Busoni [2:47]
Nun komm’ der Heiden Heiland, form Choräle von verschiedener Art, BWV659 arr. Busoni [4:11]
Sinfonia from Cantata 29, BWV29 arr. Camille Saint-Saëns [4:03]
Prelude and Fugue in D, BWV532 arr. Busoni [11:26]
Prelude in E minor, BWV555 arr. Alexander Siloti [3:54]
Jesu, Joy of man’s desiring, from Cantata BWV 147 arr. Myra Hess [3:29] ¹
Nun freut euch, lieben Christen g’mein, BWV734 arr. Busoni [1:52] ¹
Siciliano in G minor from Flute Sonata in E flat BWV1031 arr. Charles Lüstner [1:38] ¹
Prelude and Fugue in A minor BWV543 arr. Franz Liszt [8:38] ¹
Prelude in B minor from Klavierbüchlein für WF Bach arr. Siloti [2:14] ¹
Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV565 arr. Busoni [8:17] ¹
Bruno Leonardo Gelber (piano)
Alexis Weissenberg (piano) ¹
rec. Salle Wagram, Paris 1967, (Gelber) and 1972-73, (Weissenberg)
EMI CLASSICS 7 35300 2 [66:25]

EMI’s Redline series excavates some recordings here that date as far back as 1967-73, though this information is only contained in the booklet: the jewel case leads with pressing dates ranging from 1973 to 2013. There are two pianists involved, both in their own ways not unconnected with controversy, Bruno Leonardo Gelber and Alexis Weissenberg.
Gelber’s LP recital was recorded first, in 1967 and as with Weissenberg’s, in the Salle Wagram, Paris. The piano tone for Gelber is a touch splintery. In any case I wish we’d had Weissenberg’s Chaconne, as Gelber tends to the self-regarding from time to time; his penchant for vitesse is off-putting where it sounds unrelated to structural-musical concerns. Much better is Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ though there is obviously less room for manoeuvre here. Nun komm’ der Heiden Heiland is lacking the last ounce of nobility and distinction. He sounds best attuned to the more extrovert charms of the Sinfonia from Cantata BWV29, and to Busoni’s arrangement of the Prelude and Fugue in D, BWV532.
During 1972 and 1973, Weissenberg set down an LP’s worth of Bach performances for HMV ASD2971. It included three that Gelber had earlier set down: the Chaconne, Nun komm’, and Ich ruf zu dir. Certainly Weissenberg’s Chaconne is more convincing than Gelber’s. Weissenberg’s take on Myra Hess’s famous Jesu, Joy of man’s desiring is certainly diverting - very much more extrovert than hers, dynamic too and rising to a powerful crest and then subsiding. Nun freut euch, lieben Christen g’mein is dashingly done with darting left hand accents. The Prelude and Fugue in A minor BWV543, arranged by Liszt, is imaginatively traversed, with no little virtuosity to be heard as well. His Prelude in B minor from Klavierbüchlein für WF Bach in the well-known arrangement by Alexander Siloti is both expressive and slow - but the relative slowness of the tempo is no demerit here. Weissenberg’s part of the recital, and the disc, ends with Busoni’s arrangement of the Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV565 and does so with fire, command and digital surety.
I’m not sure whether this release will be much use to Weissenberg admirers who may not otherwise have the three missing pieces. They certainly won’t want Gelber’s recordings in preference to Weissenberg’s. Maybe, therefore, the audience for this is a more generalised one untroubled by older performances, some imperfectly recorded.
Jonathan Woolf