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Lux Aeterna: Visions of Bach
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Siciliano, BWV 1031, transcribed by Wilhelm Kempff (1895-1991) [4:02]
Aria, BWV 1068, transcribed by Alexander Siloti (1863-1945) [5:09]
Chaconne, BWV 1004, transcribed by Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924) [14:43]
Orgel-Choralvorspiele Book 2, BV B 27, transcribed by Ferruccio Busoni [30:33]
Thierry ESCAICH (b.1965)
Trois études baroques (2008) [12:49]
Jeux de doubles (2001) [5:07]
Beatrice Berrut (piano)
rec. Flagey Studios, Brussels, Belgium July 2014
APARTE AP100 [73:00]

When it comes to Bach’s keyboard music I have never had any qualms about hearing it performed on the ‘modern’ piano. In fact, I prefer it that way. It is not that I have a downer on the harpsichord or the clavichord: it is just that I better appreciate the sound of the piano. Neither do I have a problem with Bach transcriptions. My introduction to the great man was hearing Ronald Smith playing the gorgeous Myra Hess arrangement of ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring’. Since that time I have enjoyed hearing András Schiff, Angela Hewitt and Glenn Gould playing Bach on my favourite instrument. Furthermore, much as I appreciate the scholarly endeavours to recreate the ‘ideal’ Bach score and the most ‘authentic’ performance it is not something that exercises my mind to any great extent.

The present CD is designed to ‘build a bridge between Bach’s time and our own’ and it exhibits ‘proof positive of the universality and timelessness of his music that it can speak to all generations.’ To achieve this, Beatrice Berrut plays a selection of transcriptions of Bach’s music by Busoni and others as well as music by a modern French composer Thierry Escaich whose ‘Trois etudes baroques’ are inspired, but not dominated, by Bach.

The Chaconne, BWV 1004 transcribed by Busoni is well-known. The music derives from the final movement of the Partita No. 2 in D minor for solo violin. Clearly, Busoni has expanded this work beyond the single stave of the original, using all the appurtenances of the modern concert grand, romantic piano technique and quasi-orchestral colourings. It has been well-stated that this realisation is more like an adaptation of an organ work than a movement written for an unaccompanied string instrument. The result is an immense work that is complex, technically difficult and emotionally wide-ranging. Whatever one’s views on the process of transcription this is a masterpiece of the pianist’s art. It is impressively and inspiringly played by Beatrice Berrut.

The longest work on this outstanding CD is the ‘Ten Chorale Preludes’ BV B 27 (Busoni catalogue reference) transcribed by Ferruccio Busoni. These are taken from Bach’s Orgel-Choralvorspiele for organ. Some well-known pieces make an appearance here including ‘Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme’, BWV 645, ‘Jesus Christus, unser Heiland’, BWV 665 and ‘In Dir ist Freude’, BWV 615. Once one allows for the fact that Busoni brings his own idiosyncratic view on transcription to this music these organ works in piano guise are thoroughly enjoyable.

Two other Bach pieces are included here: the Siciliano from the Flute Sonata in E flat (BWV 1031) transcribed by the German pianist Wilhelm Kempff and the well-loved Air (on a G string) from the Orchestral Suite No.3 in D major BWV 1068 arranged by the Russian composer Alexander Siloti. Both numbers work beautifully and are played here with huge feeling and inimitable freshness.

I have not come across the music of the French composer and organist Thierry Escaich. Born in Nogent-sur-Marne in 1965 he has many works to his credit including two symphonies, a number of concertos for various instruments and large quantity of chamber works.

The ‘Trois études baroques’ were composed in 2008 and are ‘a veiled tribute to Bach.’ Yet, this is not a parody or ‘transcription’ of the master’s music. Escaich brings his own flair and aspirations to these studies. There is a jazz element that infuses (but never dominates) the music. Discords and ‘rhythmic syncopation’ play an important part in development of the argument. Structures are clear, especially in the third study which is a ‘Chaconne.’ I was impressed by the sheer power, dynamism and invention of these studies. I do not know what Thierry Escaich’s other music sounds like, but based on these multifaceted pieces he has clearly found an essential and important personal voice that is timeless in its application. The final piece on this CD is Escaich’s ‘Jeux de doubles’ (2001) which owes its inspiration to Rameau. The music builds from an ‘ancient dance’ to gigantic ‘symphonic proportions’ by way of elaborate variations and intricate development.

Beatrice Berrut was born in the Swiss canton of Valais in 1985. After study at the Conservatoire de Lausanne and at the Heinrich Neuhaus Foundation in Zurich she graduated from the Hochschule fur Musik ‘Hans Eisler’ in Berlin. She enjoyed further study with John O’Connor at the Royal Irish Academy of Music in Dublin.

Berrut has played extensively in Europe and the Americas, including recitals at the Wigmore Hall, the Preston Bradley Hall in Chicago and the Teatro Coliseo in Buenos Aires. Berrut gives many television and radio recitals. Her current discography includes Robert Schumann’s three piano sonatas and Russian cello and piano works, including Rachmaninov’s fine Sonata.

This CD is a pleasure to listen to. The recording is balanced and perfectly displays both the complex music of Thierry Escaich and the intimate detail of the Bach. The liner-notes are written by the pianist and are most helpful.

There are many CDs of transcriptions for piano of J.S. Bach’s music, including the excellent series from Hyperion. Yet not every listener needs a huge collection of these works. The present disc offers the massive Chaconne, two pot boilers, and some well-known Bach Chorale Preludes in a new (ish) guise. The added value is the three studies by Thierry Escaich. It is a magnificent introduction to the genre that is played in a revelatory style by the brilliant Beatrice Berrut.

John France