Bach to Bloch - Volume II
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue BWV 903 (arr. Ferruccio Busoni) [14:21]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Sonata No. 12 in F major, K.332/300k (1778) [18:34]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Six Ecossaises, WoO 83 (c. 1806?) [3:11]
Rondo in C major, Op. 51 No. 1 (1796-97) [8:55]
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Impromptu No. 4 in C sharp minor, B 87/Op. 66 Fantaisie-Impromptu (1835) [5:27]
Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, B 128/Op. 35 Funeral March (1837-1839) [26:41]
Jascha Spivakovsky (piano)
rec. 1955-67

The second volume in the Spivakovsky series from Pristine Audio continues to tease the potential purchaser as to precisely what Bloch we are going to discover along the way. Once again – no Bloch. What we do have however is a sequence of recordings, home-made, from the years 1955-67 and for a few biographical details on the pianist you can refer to Volume 1.

The most contentious performance here is that of Chopin’s B flat minor Sonata, a reading of intensely personalised feeling. There is something almost equine in his rhythmic playing of the opening of the Grave which, allied to some extreme internal contrasts, and rubati, ensures that this performance is not one easily to be forgotten. It’s also rather slow and, because of the nature of the recording, the dynamic range doesn’t come across terribly well. He is technically excellent, slips being minor and largely inconsequential, but he slows down so much in the B section of the Scherzo that he almost comes to a full-stop. He sounds wholly in love with the music but at a terrible structural cost. Oddly the Funeral March itself is much better, and less subject to caprice. The recording does for any sotto voce in the myriad voicings of the haunted finale. Thinking about the sometimes erratic personalisation of some of the Spivakovsky performances I’ve heard makes me wonder to what extent any home-made recordings – presumably never meant to be released to the public – were accurate representations of his concert-giving self, or more extreme, indulged versions of it.

The Bach-Busoni Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in D minor exposes the listener to the more leonine aspect of his art. Whilst it’s not wholly free from some of these elements of personalised imposition, it is very much more cast in the mould of the heroic exponent. The effect is both sonorous – despite the relatively compromised sonics – and grand. Mozart’s F major sonata, K332 is played with quite stylish wit; alertly delineated, with fine voicings, this is imaginative non-doctrinaire Mozart playing. Smaller pieces from Beethoven follow – there’s an attractive reading of the Rondo in G major for instance – before more Chopin, the Fantaisie Impromptu in C sharp minor which points to that element of extroversion in his music-making.

As with the first volume admiration is not unmixed. Even excepting his status as a Russian Romanticist, Spivakovsky pushes things sometimes to extremes. He is most successful when he doesn’t breach the true architectural and rhythmic constraints of the pieces he plays.

None of these performances has been released before and the transfers have certainly managed to clarify much of the playing, even if they haven’t worked miracles.

Jonathan Woolf