Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Das Wohltemperierte Akkordeon
Prelude and Fugue in C major, BWV 846 [4:08]
Prelude and Fugue in C minor, BWV 847 [2:57]
Prelude and Fugue in B flat minor, BWV 891 [8:37]
Prelude and Fugue in D major, BWV 850 [2:59]
Prelude and Fugue in F major, BWV 880 [4:58]
Prelude and Fugue in B flat minor, BWV 867 [6:03]
Prelude and Fugue in F sharp major, BWV 858 [2:54]
Prelude and Fugue in F sharp minor, BWV 883 [4:55]
Prelude and Fugue in G major, BWV 884 [3:20]
Prelude and Fugue in G minor, BWV 861 [4:09]
Prelude and Fugue in D major, BWV 874 [8:15]
Prelude and Fugue in B minor, BWV 869 [11:25]
Mie Miki (accordion)
rec. October 2016, Lšnna Church, Sweden.
BIS BIS-2217 SACD [66:20]
Through numerous recordings, concert appearances and collaborations with composers, Mie Miki has for some time now been established as one of today's foremost accordion players, and very much part of the relatively recent wave of musicians that has raised this instrument into a significant part of Western musical culture.
In the booklet notes, Miki writes of her long relationship with Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, and the eternity it took "to get the notes right on the instrument, and then to make that into something musical. I constantly found myself in a landscape surrounded by mist, and every time I thought I had discovered something, it proved to be just a mirage." All of this work was by no means wasted however, as it led to a moment of rare enlightenment and a clear path that has led to this recording: "a practice plan is of little use and so I embraced timelessness instead. That is why it took so long!"
Any such recording is indeed a serious proposition, and there is nowhere to hide in such music. Mie Miki's technical prowess is never in doubt of course, and these are all superbly crafted performances. She doesn't go in for much in the way of baroque decoration, and the atmosphere here is one of reflective directness of expression - the music breathing with the natural rise and fall of the accordion's bellow, the clarity of each voice in the fugues something rather special.
As keyboard works we have become used to an attack/decay sound for these pieces, whether it be from a harpsichord or a piano. There are organ versions on record (review), but the character of the accordion lends a more intimate feel to the music. You will have to get used to sustained notes and chords increasing in volume, but this all seems 'right' within the dynamic landscape of Miki's interpretations. J.S. Bach is one of those composers whose works can be performed on almost anything and still sound wonderful but there is no compromise here, just new and valuable perspectives on venerable old friends.
The joy in this case is that none of the playing is in the slightest way stodgy. Miki's tempi are measured and conventional, but she can also show us some speedy virtuosity, the Prelude in D major BWV 850 skittering over the keys in spectacular fashion. Contrast comes around with lightness and dancing rhythms with something like the Fugue in F major BWV 880, and we get a whiff of folk-music in a piece that in other contexts is unlikely to have sprung to mind. The other side of the coin is the churchy nature that comes out in the Prelude in B-flat minor BWV 867, at least for those of us for whom the local church organ was a harmonium. There are no comments as to the selection made for this program, but starting and finishing with the first and last preludes and fugues from Book 1 shapes the whole nicely, and the relationships of tonality between each piece works well enough.
Accordion players seem to have gone for the Goldberg Variations more when it comes to Bach, and Miki has previously recorded some of the French Suites and other pieces. I haven't been able to find any other Well-Tempered Clavier recordings on accordion, so have no comparisons to make. With BIS's usual superb recording; nicely balanced in the Lšnna Church's airy and uncluttered acoustic, this is a release with a great deal going for it. I might at this point have demanded a complete WTC from this musician, but this well chosen selection works very well indeed and is probably enough for most listeners.