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Bach and Contemporary Music
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Toccata in C minor BWV 911 (1701) [10:40]
English Suite No. 2 in A minor (c. 1715) [21:05]
Prelude and Fugue in D minor BWV 851 (1722) [4:23]
Sofia GUBAIDULINA (b.1931)
Toccata-Troncata (1971) [1:55]
Arvo PÄRT (b.1935)
“Für Alina” (1976) [2:58]
Xiayong CHEN (b.1955)
Diary III (2004): Chant of Stones [2:28]; Wind, Water and Shadow [2:57]
Terry RILEY (b.1935)
G-Song, transcribed by Markus Horn (1980) [3:49]
Henri DUTILLEUX (1916-2013)
Au Gré des ondes: Hommage à Bach (1946) [2 :53]
Dimitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Prelude and Fugue in D minor Op. 87 No. 24 (1950) [12:13]
Alexandra Sostmann (piano)
rec. September 2013, Friedrich-Ebert-Halle, Hamburg, Germany
full tracklist at end of review
TYXART TXA13036 [65:23]

This is Alexandra Sostmann’s first solo album; she is one half of the two-piano Duo Villarceaux. The disc is far from alone in making connections between the music of Bach or Baroque music in general with contemporary works. The compilation is described as ‘a personal selection’ so it is a pity that the pianist herself did not write the notes for a better understanding of the motivations behind the choice. As it is, the notes, while sometimes illuminating, tend towards the inflated rather than being typical of the thoughts of a professional pianist. A not especially helpful ‘making the CD’ video is available on Sostmann’s website.
 
Nevertheless, this is an intriguing recital, setting off substantial pieces of Bach against generally short but by no means inconsequential works from the last seventy years. Three are by composers of the minimalist persuasion. Those by Sofia Gubaidulina (Toccata – Troncata) and Arvo Pärt (Fur Alina, the first piece in his "tintinnabuli style") punch well above their weight. Fur Alina’s seemingly artless sequence of chords – beautifully played here - makes an extraordinarily melancholic impression, blown away in an instant by the striding theme of Bach’s A minor prelude. In comparison, Terry Riley’s G Song, originally for string quartet, is slighter and seems atypical of the composer of In C and A Rainbow in Curved Air. While the preoccupation with rhythm makes a connection to baroque music, there is little rhythmic distinction here. It is a straightforward piece on the periphery of jazz; a pale echo of Enrico Pieranunzi perhaps.
 
Xiaoyong Chen is a Chinese composer who studied with Ligeti in Hamburg and is now based in Germany. He is said to be preoccupied with sound per se. I read, but do not really understand, that “For Xiaoyong Chen, composing is communication with the sound, tracing its as yet hidden possibilities.” I cannot say that I hear any influence of Bach - rather more of Debussy. Just the same, his two short works here are evocative and repay repeated listening.
 
The Dutilleux is uncharacteristic of the composer and uses a modernized Baroque language. Although it is attractive in a lightweight, minor-key idiom, its inclusion, like that of the Riley, in this otherwise fairly serious recital is somewhat surprising.
 
The most obvious link between the musical eras is the inclusion of the prelude-and-fugues by Bach and Shostakovich, in the same (minor again) key. Shostakovich’s concentrated fugue builds to a passionate climax in Sostmann’s hands, providing an intense finale.
 
What of the accounts of the Bach works that take up over half of the disc? If you look at the versions for piano, there are many fine competitors; Angela Hewitt, Murray Perahia, Vladimir Feltsman and Robert Levin offer the English Suites in contrasting performances. Alexandra Sostmann’s performance of the A minor suite shows up well in that company; athletic, clear and well-articulated, as is her account of the D minor prelude and fugue. Bach’s youthful toccatas are harder to bring off on the piano, the stylus fantasticus of the improvisatory passages requiring, to my mind, the rich resonance of the harpsichord. Nevertheless, the performance is more than acceptable.
 
In the end, the success of this recital rests on the contrasts and comparisons between not just Bach-and-contemporary but also within the modern set, and whether you are attracted to the programme as a whole. All the pieces are well played - to the extent that I am nearly converted to the minimalist cause - and the sound recording is clear and spacious. Certainly well worth a listen.
 
Roger Blackburn

Full tracklist
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Toccata in C minor BWV 911 (1701) [10:40]
English Suite No. 2 in A minor (c. 1715)
Prélude [4:22]
Allemande [4:00]
Courante [1:43]
Sarabande [3:45]
Bourée I, Bourée II [4:08]
Gigue [3:07]
Prelude and Fugue in D minor BWV 851 (1722)
Prelude [1:28]
Fugue [2:55]
Sofia GUBAIDULINA (b.1931)
Toccata-Troncata (1971) [1:55]
Arvo PÄRT (b.1935)
“Für Alina” (1976) [2:58]
Xiayong CHEN (b.1955)
Diary III (2004)
Chant of Stones [2:28]
Wind, Water and Shadow [2:57]
Terry RILEY (b.1935)
G-Song, transcribed by Markus Horn (1980) [3:49]
Henri DUTILLEUX (1916-2013)
Au Gré des ondes: Hommage à Bach (1946) [2 :53]
Dimitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Prelude and Fugue in D minor Op. 87 No. 24 (1950)
Prelude [4:02]
Fugue [8:11]