Mostly Transcriptions 2
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Prelude and Fugue in D, BWV 532 (arr. Busoni) [12:37]
Prelude and Fugue in A minor, BWV 543 (arr. Liszt) [10:46]
Adagio from Sonata No 5 in F minor, BWV 1018 (arr. Siloti) [4:43]
Chorale prelude: “Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ” BBWV 639/177 (arr. Busoni) [3:29]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
An die ferne Geliebte, Op. 98 (arr. Liszt) [13:51]
Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111 [26:15]
Tien Hsieh (piano)
rec. 2013, Blue Wave Productions, Vancouver, Canada
MSR CLASSICS MS 1531 [71:39]

Taiwanese-American pianist Tien Hsieh recorded a recital called Mostly Transcriptions for the obscure (and now possibly defunct?) Titanic label, and now Volume 2 is here on MSR Classics. The focus this time is on J.S. Bach, as transcribed by Liszt, Siloti, and Busoni. Beethoven’s song cycle An die ferne Geliebte is here, too, and—because this is “Mostly” Transcriptions—Beethoven’s last piano sonata rounds out the program.

Tien Hsieh’s way with the transcriptions is forthright, and “pianistic,” which is a vague review-speak word that I’m using to mean that she fully exploits all the piano’s dynamic and expressive capabilities. Her Fazioli is a little bit boxed-in by the small space in which it was recorded, although this close miking does make some of the Bach fugue passages even more impressive than they already would have been. On the other hand, I’m not sure whether to blame the pianist or engineers for the lack of a soft, ethereal touch in the Bach-Siloti adagio. The chorale prelude, arranged by Busoni, is much more to my liking.

The Beethoven song cycle is tightly organized and developed; it feels like one coherent piece. (And MSR places the whole thing on one track, which may or may not be your preference.) Beethoven’s Sonata No. 32 rounds things out, with a good performance that doesn’t rock the boat. The first movement is big, meaty, and dramatic, but here again Hsieh’s piano sound is boxed in by the close miking and small studio. On a concert stage she must be much more impressive. The arietta stretches to 16:48 but in places feels deceptively swift: check out the very busy “boogie” variation, or the straightforward, unsentimental announcement of the theme. Hsieh has some trouble with the trills near the end, but it’s not a big problem.

I can’t say I’m thrilled with this recital. The playing is good, but the repertoire chosen will either excite you, or not. And the sound quality does Tien Hsieh no favors. I’ll keep my ears on her in the future, but for now this is very good without being essential.

Brian Reinhart

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