Record­ing of the Month

Jo­hann Se­bas­tian Bach Víkingur Ólaf­s­son

BBC Music Magazine - - Contents -

‘In­ter­min­gling cel­e­brated tran­scrip­tions with Bach’s orig­i­nal works, Ólaf­s­son cre­ates a rav­ish­ing mu­si­cal se­quence’

Pre­lude and Fughetta in G ma­jor; Or­gan Sonata

No. 4; The Well-tem­pered Clavier, Book I (Ex­cerpts); Con­certo in D mi­nor; Fan­ta­sia and Fugue in A mi­nor, and other se­lected key­board works

Víkingur Ólaf­s­son (pi­ano)

DG 483 5022 77.25 mins

★aving heard Víkingur Ólaf­s­son present a se­lec­tion from this pro­gramme in recital, and hav­ing ad­mired the clar­ity, poise and warmth of his playing, I ex­pected this record­ing to be good; but just how good was still a sur­prise. And it’s pref­aced by an es­say which bril­liantly ex­plains his ra­tio­nale. Start­ing from the premise that there is no sin­gle, cor­rect so­lu­tion to how

JS Bach’s key­board mu­sic should be played – the com­poser left hardly any in­di­ca­tions – this young Ice­lander points out that ev­ery el­e­ment is up for de­bate, in­clud­ing tem­pos, dy­nam­ics, pro­por­tions and ar­tic­u­la­tion: ‘We per­form­ers must weigh our knowl­edge of pe­riod style against our in­di­vid­ual and in­escapably con­tem­po­rary sen­si­bil­ity; our faith­ful­ness to what we be­lieve to have been the com­poser’s in­ten­tion against our free­dom to dis­cover pos­si­bil­i­ties in the mu­sic that the com­poser could never have fore­seen – some of them made avail­able by the mod­ern in­stru­ment. There is no sin­gle, cor­rect so­lu­tion.’ And this, he says, is a strangely lib­er­at­ing re­al­i­sa­tion: the per­former must nec­es­sar­ily be­come a co-cre­ator, but one who stands on the shoul­ders of the great co-cre­ators who have gone be­fore them.

★is own pre­cur­sors have been, in turn, Ed­win Fis­cher, Ros­alyn Tureck, Dinu Li­patti,

JS Bach

Glenn Gould and Martha Arg­erich, to each of whom he ac­knowl­edges a debt; as a tran­scriber, he owes a debt to Bu­soni, Au­gust Stradal, Rach­mani­nov, Wil­helm Kempff and Alexander

Siloti (whose work his own tran­scrip­tion – of Wider­stehe doch der Sünde BWV 54 – most clearly echoes). Bach now, he says, gen­er­ally sounds quite dif­fer­ent from Bach 30 years ago, and still more dif­fer­ent from Bach 50 years ago. ‘In that sense,’ he says, ‘his mu­sic is con­tem­po­rary rather than clas­si­cal.’ One might say that all this is blind­ingly ob­vi­ous, but to have it so lu­cidly stated is very much ap­pre­ci­ated.

In­ter­min­gling cel­e­brated tran­scrip­tions with some of Bach’s pre­ludes, fugues, in­ven­tions, sin­fo­nias, par­tita move­ments and with the A mi­nor Vari­a­tions BWV 989 which form the struc­tural heart of this per­for­mance – this disc re­ally does feel like a per­for­mance – Ólaf­s­son cre­ates a rav­ish­ing mu­si­cal se­quence. Ev­ery track has its own al­lure, and many re­flect a vir­tu­os­ity which is never flaunted; he treats the pre­ludes and fugues as though they had been con­ceived as tone-po­ems or études: his fleet, slightly dé­taché ac­count of the C mi­nor pre­lude from Book I of the 48 is a mir­a­cle of del­i­cate con­trol, and his ac­count of the Fugue in A mi­nor BWV 904 has aus­tere grandeur. ★igh­lights among the tran­scrip­tions in­clude Kempff’s fin­ger-twis­ter on ‘Nun freut euch’ (here made to sound as easy as a walk in the park), the ada­gio from Stradal’s ver­sion of the Or­gan Sonata No. 4 (sound­ing as­ton­ish­ingly or­gan­like), and Ólaf­s­son’s ac­count of Bu­soni’s ‘Nun komm, der ★ei­den ★ei­land’, which ven­tures through dark realms with a mea­sured tread. PER­FOR­MANCE ★★★★★ RECORD­ING ★★★★★

Hear ex­cerpts and a dis­cus­sion of this record­ing on the monthly BBC Mu­sic Mag­a­zine Pod­cast avail­able free on itunes or clas­si­cal-mu­sic.com

Pi­anist Víkingur Ólaf­s­son plays Bach

Prism playing: Ólaf­s­son’s Bach is mul­ti­fac­eted

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