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Piano Transcriptions

Three Pieces from the Partita No. 3 for Unaccompanied Violin, BWV 1006
Transcribed and played by Sergei Rachmaninov
Aria (Largo) from Concerto in F minor, BWV 1056
Transcribed and played by Alfred Cortot.
Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565
Transcribed by Carl Tausig, adapted by Emanuel Moor, played by Winifred Christie
'Sheep may Safely Graze' (Birthday Cantata), BWV 208
Transcribed by Mary Howe, played by Ethel Bartlett and Rae Robertson.
Fugue in G minor from the Little Organ Book, BWV 578
Transcribed and played by Olga Samaroff
'Jesus Christus, Gottes Sohn', from Easter Cantata No. 4, BWV 4
Transcribed by Walter Rummel, played by George Copeland.
'Sanctify us by Thy Goodness', Chorale from Contata No. 22, BWV 22
Transcribed and played by Harriet Cohen.
'Fervent is my Longing', Organ Chorale Prelude,BWV 727.
Transcribed and played by Alexander Kelberine.
'Jesu, Joy of Man's Desising' from Cantata No.147
Transcribed by Myra Hess, played by Walter Gieseking.
Pastorale, from Weihnachts-Oratorium (Christmas Oratorio), BWV 248
Transcribed by Clarence Lucas, played by Wilhelm Backhaus.
Prelude and Fugue in A minor, BWV 643
Transcribed by Franz Liszt, played Byron Jamis
Toccata in C major (Prelude, Intermezzo and Fugue), BWV 564
Transcribed by Ferruccio Busoni, played by Artur Rubinstein
NAXOS 8.110658, recorded 1925-47, [67.15]
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Today is very much the time for authenticity and probably for this reason transcriptions are very much out of favour and are seldom played. Bach's music is not exempt from this seeking of authenticity and rightly so. However there is a great problem with Bach's music in that his scores so often are devoid of details which make authentic performances so difficult - especially when details of the instruments to be used are missing. It is noteworthy that as an exception to the general rule relating to authenticity, much of Bach's keyboard music is still played on the modern piano and, for example Glenn Gould's 'Goldberg' variations, are well loved classics. Even today people are accustomed to hearing Bach played on the piano (and many people refuse to listen to the harpsichord). This record therefore does not produce any culture shock even if people are not used to hearing these particular pieces on the modern grand.

The CD contains 18 tracks of recordings from between about 1925 to 1947. They have been lovingly restored. The results are astonishing and from casual listening do not betray their 78s origins. They are described as 'rare historical recordings' and this is an accurate description. However the CD can be, and should be, considered not as a mere historical record but also as an alternative way of listening to great music. One cannot but believe that Bach would have enjoyed these transcriptions.

It is not easy to pick out any particular track for consideration as all achieve a high standard both of playing and of musicality. Certain tracks however stand out. Rachmaninov is an ideal opening for the disc with an outstanding performance of a very appropriate transcription. Evidently he had a real feeling for the spirit of Bach. Winifred Christie plays the famous 'Toccata and Fugue in D minor' on a double keyboard instrument to great effect. I was especially impressed by the playing by George Copeland of music from the Easter Cantata no. 4. Walter Gieseking plays the Myra Hess transcription of 'Jesu, Joy of Man's desiring' with a cool elegance which forms an interesting contrast to the slightly more emotional rendering by Hess herself. Busoni's transcriptions of Bach are justly famous and the disc concludes with his incredible transcription of the Toccata in C (BWV 564) played by Arthur Rubinstein with enjoyment and apparent ease.

The CD is well presented and has useful documentation. The essay by Nalen Anthoni is interesting but is mainly concerned with Transcriptions in the 19th Century, whereas in fact most of the pieces on the CD were written in the 20th Century. Whilst there is no doubt that many transcriptions were written for concert use by Pianist-Composers, we should not forget that during most of the 19th and early 20th centuries, a good many houses contained a piano and this was the main way that most people heard music. Home playing of transcriptions was very common in those days before the gramophone became fully established.

Naxos has produced here a most enjoyable record which can be fully recommended not only to piano specialists but also to the general music lover and to people who are only just beginning to enjoy Bach's music.

Arthur Baker.

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