Alexei Lubimov Records C.P.E. Bach

Tangere

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach

Tangere

Alexei Lubimov, tangent piano

ECM 2112

Sort of a hybrid in sound between harpsichord and fortepiano, the tangent piano had its heyday in the second half of the Eighteenth century; they are relatively few of them left in existence. While they are no match for the volume and intensity possible with a fortepiano or modern piano, the tangent piano often had a number of different devices with which to create dynamic nuance. Alexei Lubimov decided for his latest ECM recording to employ a modern replica of a tangent piano built by Belgian craftsman Chris Maene. He felt that it had the ideal variety of shadings and tone colors with which to interpret the work of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, a composer whose works Lubimov has in recent years championed.

C.P.E. Bach (1714-1788), one of J.S. Bach’s sons, was one of the most famous composers of the latter half of the Eighteenth century. Eclipsed by his father’s revival in the Nineteenth century, C.P.E. Bach is currently experiencing something of a revival of his own. A recent issue of Gramophone was devoted to his music. The piano concertos and solo piano works are being programmed again with greater frequency (dare one hope that his vocal and chamber music are next?). With Lubimov’s Tangere, listeners are afforded the double delight of hearing a fine cross section of the composer’s work played on a beguiling and multifaceted instrument.

C.P.E. composed keyboard music in a plethora of  styles and idioms. His most formidable pieces, two Fantasies in D#-minor and C-minor respectively, bookend the collection, replete with fluid tempo changes and florid runs. There are also a pair of sonatas, in three-movement versions of the form: fast-slow-fast, omitting the dance movement. The D-minor has a brilliant first movement that propels that the work forward, while the G major sonata relies on a three-chord pattern that Lubimov shapes with considerable delicacy. Pieces for left and right hand alone likewise are treated with sensitivity. Two rondos supply tunes of an angularity and variety that sometimes approaches C.P.E.’s father’s keyboard works. The disc is capped off by a number of shorter compositions, some less than half a minute long, titled Fantasies. One could see these wonderful miniatures serving as introductions to lengthier excursions or prompts for improvisation (Czerny’s book on improvisation is a commendable introduction to this method of learning impromptu playing).

Throughout, Lubimov makes the tangent piano the star, employing all of its various methods of expression to stirring effect. As such, it is one of my “Best Recordings of 2017” in the “solo instrument” category. One hopes that there will be additional outings in which he shares his art with us on this rare and fascinating instrument.

-Christian Carey

Duo Stephanie & Saar: “The Art of Fugue”

DUO095

I spent a year analyzing Bach’s Art of Fugue as an undergraduate, so it is fair to say that I’m passionate about the work and a bit picky about its performance. For their third New Focus CD, DUO Stephanie & Saar present the work in its entirety on piano instead of harpsichord, leaving the last fugue where Bach did (unfinished), but including “Canon per Augmentationem in Contrario Motu,” a gentle yet substantial epilogue by Stephanie Ho. This solution works at least as well as what is done on other recordings, which is to leave the final fugue unfinished but include Bach’s final chorale prelude, “Before Your Throne I Come,” as a postlude.

The duo’s playing is detailed and deliberate rather than showy, with the pianists taking pains to make all of the counterpoint clear. Since this is what the piece principally is about, it is a smart tactic to employ.

Sometimes folks grouse about the amount of recordings of standard repertoire, asking,”Do we really NEED more Bach CDs?” When it comes to a pliable and fascinating work such as this, especially when it is so well played by its performers, my answer is a resounding yes.

Jeremy Denk’s Goldberg Variations

 

File Under Best CDs of 2013

J.S. Bach

Goldberg Variations

Jeremy Denk, piano

Nonesuch CD

 

Pianist Jeremy Denk is a versatile and thoughtful artist. But any pianist, no matter how prodigious his or her skills, must view recording the Goldberg Variations as a Mount Parnassus type of achievement. So many fine recordings already exist – do we need more? Denk’s rendition suggests there is room aplenty for new interpretations of this late work by J.S. Bach.

I recently played several versions of the piece for students of mine who were studying it. They were all impressed by Glenn Gould’s virtuosity, but suggested that he sounded like “a client of Walter White” in terms of tempo choices. Like me, they instead found Denk’s tempi to be “Goldilocks choices:” just right. He is sensitive to the overall pacing of the suite and provides the piece with a long range trajectory that allows for moments of delicacy and others in which the counterpoint flies fast and furious. There is a rhythmic suppleness to his playing that is most attractive. Another reason this is a “Goldilocks choice”: Denk is not trying to fool you into hearing a harpsichord, but his piano-playing is informed by period practice. That won’t make some of the more intransigent purists on either side happy, but to me it sounds “just right.”

-Christian Carey