Tuesday 27 February 2018

Bach on the piano: Sandro Ivo Bartoli in Bach's smaller pieces

Sandro Ivo Bartoli - Bach - Solaire Records
Johann Sebastian Bach Preludes, Fantasias and Minuets; Sandro Ivo Bartoli; SOLAIRE
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 21 2018 Star rating: 4.5
Bach's oft overlooked 'little pieces' in engaging performances on the piano

Whilst not exactly an issue, Bach played on the piano nowadays is always something of a talking point though in fact 18th century performers tended to have a rather fluid attitude to the issue of what music on what keyboard. But today we worry about such details as pedal or no pedal, crisp neo-harpsichord touch or full frequency pianism, not to mention advantage of the pianos greater range. This new Bach recital from Solaire records features Bach's Prelude, Fugue and Allegro, Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue alongside many smaller pieces, include the groups of Kleine Preludium. The pianist on the disc Sandro Ivo Bartoli, pins his colours to the mast in his thoughtful article in the CD booklet. Bartoli expresses his admiration for Ferrucio Busoni, frankly no bad model to have if you are looking to play Bach on the piano, using the full range of pianism, though Bartoli eschews Busoni's degree of interventionsim.

Bartoli expresses it succinctly 'I love my instrument, and in the ultimate analysis I am a pianist and can only play as a pianist'. Bartoli also makes another illuminating comment in his article, 'Bach is fun, so I would have fun with his music'. Not something everyone would admit.

Linked to this approach is the repertoire on the disc, which concentrates on Bach's smaller pieces. Whilst Bartoli has recorded no Bach for 30 years, these are pieces which have never left his piano and which he has always played in private. A number of the works on the disc have uncertain provenance, listed as dubious or more in the catalogue. Bartoli has gone by his instinct and chosen his programme on musical merit rather than scholarly attribution, and the result makes for a highly satisfying programme.

The smaller pieces come from such sources as the Anna Magdalena Bach Notebook and the Wilhelm Friedeman Bach Notebook, and it is tempting to imagine Johann Sebastian creating some of these works for his first-born son's tuition. For much of the disc, the order of the pieces is Bartoli's. With no specific published order, he is free to choose his own.

Not all the pieces are small, we have the magnificent Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue, the Prelude, Fugue and Allegro, and the three Fantasias, but overall the disc has 30 different movements in 74 minutes. The result is an engaging and very personal programme, a sequence of little gems given in performances which are highly personal. These are wonderful piece, often tiny yet each evincing a concern for a particular idea which is explored, and the sheer kaleidescopic quality of this array of small but concentrated pieces is quite remarkable

Bartoli's style has a Romantic sensibility to it, how could it not; his previous recital for Solaire was of Liszt, yet he plays with clarity too. For all the talk of Busoni, there are no grand romantic effects, just a care for the tone and phrasing, and a fine clarity of line.

As usual with Solaire, the CD comes in handsome packaging, with a booklet full of good things including two essays in English. By grouping so many smaller pieces together, the programme makes us take note of them in a way that is not always possible when smaller works are programmed alongside bigger ones. And Bartoli's pianism does full justice to the remarkable range of imagination in these works.

Johann Sebastian Bach(1685-1750)
Präludium, Fuge und Allegro BWV 998 [10:48]
6 Kleine Präludien BWV 933-938 [12:06]
3 Minuets BWV 841-843 [5:25]
Fantasie g-moll BWV 917 [3:16]
Präludium – Fantasie a-moll BWV 922 [8:06]
Präludium – Fantasie a-moll BWV 921 [4:14]
12 Kleine Präludien [14:23]
Präludium C-Dur BWV 904/a [1:26]
Chromatische Fantasie und Fuge BWV 903 [14:04]
Sandro Ivo Bartoli (piano)
Recorded 30 September-1 October 2016, Reitstadel, Neumarkt i.d. Oberpfalz
Available from Amazon.

Elsewhere on this blog:
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  • Music, myth and time: Karen Cargill and the Scottish Ensemble at Kings Place (4.5*) - concert review
  • A varied career: our interview with violinist Thomas Gould finds him in a thoughtful mood - interview
  • Má vlast: Jiri Belohlavek's last recording with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra - CD review (****)
  • Notable recital debut disc from French Horn player Ben Golscheider - Cd review (****)
  • 18 years after its premiere, Jake Heggie's Dead Man Walking receives its first UK performance - Opera review (3.5 *)
  • Gerstein plays Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue and Piano Concerto in F - CD review (****)
  • Satyagraha: Philip Glass's opera at ENO - Opera review (****)
  • Musical Arcadia: Handel at Vauxhall on Signum Classics - CD review (****)
  • Motherhood and memory: Helen Grime's Bright Travellers at the Wigmore Hall - Concert review (****)
  • Bernstein, Gubaidulina & more: violinist Vadim Gluzman on the importance of contemporary repertoire  - Interview
  • Music in a cold climate: the sounds of Hansa Europe - CD review (***)
  • Spices! Perfumes! Toxins! Approachably melodic percussion concerto - CD review - CD review (***)
  • A Triptych: Irrational Theatre at the King's Head - Opera review (***)
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