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Fake Bach - A Journey into Bach Arrangements
Luigi Palombi (piano)
Rec. 2019, Auditorio Stelio molo, Lugano
DYNAMIC CDS7891 [58:45]

In the 19th century many audiences would only have known “fake” Bach and whether tales of a certain pianist being introduced as Mr Bach-Busoni are true or not it is quite plausible given the fact that many a recital would open with Bach-Busoni, Bach-D'Albert, Bach-Tausig, Bach-Liszt or Bach-insert-name-here. Of course Bach, unhyphenated, has assumed his rightful place in the spotlight but there remain many music lovers, myself included, still fascinated by the works that grow out of a composer's tribute to the German master.

Milan trained pianist Luigi Palombi has constructed a very satisfying recital. The bookends are contemplative and familiar; Gounod's version of the C major Prelude, Ave Maria though played here in his 1853 version for solo piano, and the Air from the Giuseppe Martucci's complete transcription of the third Orchestral Suite. Between these we effectively have four three-movement suites. Two of these are as written; the Concerto in D minor after Marcello by Bach himself and the twice transcribed Concerto in A minor op.3 no.8 by Antonio Vivaldi first arranged as an organ solo by Bach and which was then transcribed for the piano by Stradal. The other two have been created by Palombi from arrangements made by other virtuoso pianists. So we hear a suite opening with a brisk movement from the cantata Amore traditore arranged by Walter Rummel, and two excerpts from the solo violin sonatas; a Largo from BWV1005 by Saint-Saëns and the final Presto from BWV1001 in Leopold Godowsky's startling recreation. After Brahms' very different version of this same work there is a Suite in B minor opening with Alexander Siloti's haunting Prélude. Once again Saint-Saëns and Godowsky feature though this time Godowsky supplies the slow movement, the Sarabande from BWV1002, and Saint-Saëns the finale, the dashing Bourrée from the same Partita.
The Stradal is surely the rarest and in some ways most unusual arrangement here. August Stradal was a Czech pianist and inveterate arranger. Five of the Symphonies by his teacher Bruckner, as well as works by Bach, Buxtehude,Wagner, Liszt Strauss, Reubke and others were transformed under his pen. If Busoni's Bach arrangements can be described as cathedral-like I am not sure what gargantuun edifice describes this tranformation, far removed from the bouyancy and vivacity of Vivaldi's original. Bach added grandeur in his organ transcription of the work and Stradal has developed that to the nth degree; the three grand opening chords, played fff are each preceeded by a four note bass chord acciaccatura, and the texture doesn't appreciably thin until 17 bars in. Even then there are still bars with ten quavers in a row having at least an octave grace-note attached. Admittedly Stradal would probably not know the Vivaldi original and would be working purely on a transformation of the Bach so if you like your Bach transcriptions huge, the piano's sonorities pushed to its limits then this is the piece for you. Personally I prefer the equally individual but more imaginative approach of Saint-Saëns, Rummel or Godowsky. Take the Presto from the Violin Sonata BWV1001. Brahms' version (Palombi plays the first of the two versions he wrote) is a moto perpetuo study in mirrored writing between the hands, effective but relatively anonymous. Godowsky's version, part of his rethinking the entire piece in pianistic terms, is a miracle of contrapuntal writing and voicing that manages to sound sonorous, virtuosic, and idiomatic without sacrificing the life, momentum or light and shade of the piece.

This is an exciting programme. Palombi has the measure of this music both technically and musically; he is not daunted by the huge demands that are part and parcel of this repertoire, the Godowsky and Stradal in particular, nor is he just a technician for he finds grace, colour and graded texture thoughout the slow movements; the Saint-Saëns largo is particularly successful in this regard. I do find that he occasionally errs a little too much on the slower side for my taste; the Air that ends the recital is too static and though Palombi just holds it together it sounds ponderous, played slower than even Martucci's marked speed of quaver equals 40. Even after hearing it several times there seems such a large gap between the first and second bass notes and the first note of the air itself seems lost before we are through the bar. This is also the case at the end of the Siloti Prelude where the flow of the piece is lost in micro detailing of the left hand spread chords; I miss Emil Gilel's lyrical simplicity in this piece. This aside it is an engaging programme that shows just how different Bach can sound viewed through the eyes of these radically different pianist's personalities.

Rob Challinor

Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
Méditation sur le premier prélude de piano de J S Bach 'Ave Maria' (1859)[5:05]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) arr. Walter RUMMEL (1887-1953)
Cembalo obbligato 'chi in amore ha nemica la sorte'
from the Cantata “Amore traditore” BWV.203 (c.1723/1922)[2:10]
Johann Sebastian BACH arr. Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Largo from the Violin Sonata No.3 BWV.1005 (1720/c.1861)[3:56]
Johann Sebastian BACH arr. Leopold GODOWSKY (1870-1938)
Presto from the Violin Sonata No.1 BWV.1001 (1720/1923)[1:55]
Johann Sebastian BACH
Concerto in D minor from Alessandro marcello's Oboe Concerto BWV.974 (1713-14)[8:51]
Johann Sebastian BACH arr. Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Presto from the Violin Sonata No.1 BWV.1001 (1720/c.1877)[1:56]
Johann Sebastian BACH arr. Alexander SILOTI (1863-1945)
Prélude 5 from the Klavierbüchlein für Wilhelm Friedemann Bach BWV.855a (1722)[2:03]
Johann Sebastian BACH arr. Leopold GODOWSKY
Sarabande from the Violin Partita No.1 BWV.1002 (1720/1923)[5:19]
Johann Sebastian BACH arr. Camille SAINT-SAËNS
Bourrée from the Violin Partita No.1 BWV.1002 (1720/c.1861)[1:47]
Johann Sebastian BACH arr. August STRADAL (1860-1930)
Concerto in A minor from Bach's organ transcription (BWV.593) of
Vivaldi's Concerto Op.3 No.8 of L'estro harmonico (1713-14)[20:32]
Johann Sebastian BACH arr. Giuseppe MARTUCCI (1856-1909)
Air from the Orchestral suite No.3 BWV.1068 (1731/1897)[5:03]

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