Bach in a Lamborghini
Last year, the young Italian pianist Federico Colli made waves with a disc of Scarlatti subtitled “Volume 1”, which might have seemed to promise that he would be occupied with that composer’s 500-plus sonatas for some time. Instead, however, he has diverted his attention to JS Bach, and gratifyingly too, as even in such well-worn repertoire, he has a lot to say.
Not for Colli the constraints of performing on an instrument of Bach’s time – he has tried those for research, but compared it to driving a Fiat 500 when you have a Lamborghini waiting in the garage. So he plays on a modern Steinway; and yet there is a percussive quality to his touch that means that when he rattles winningly through the outer movements of the Italian Concerto, with entirely natural fluency, you can almost hear how they would sound on a harpsichord.
In softer movements, such as those at the heart of the Partita in D major, BWV 828, that distinctness melts into playing of soft-edged inwardness, soulsearching yet never losing its poise. For all the vitality of his faster playing, and the subtle spring and swing he puts into the rhythm of each of the Partita’s seven dances, it’s perhaps these quieter moments that offer the disc’s most memorable highlights.
Finally, there is Bach’s D minor Chaconne – a solo violin work expanded by Busoni into a colossus of the piano repertoire. Colli’s performance is characteristically thoughtful and considered, yet has a self-aware sense of the epic about it – which is not surprising when you read the liner note, in which he explains that he has come to see the work as nothing less than a three-part allegory of the crucifixion, resurrection and last judgment. Whether or not you buy into that interpretation of Bach’s motives for writing this extraordinary work, it’s a monumentally well-paced performance that grips from each moment to the next.
For all the vitality of his faster playing, it’s the quieter moments that are highlights
Also out this week
An intriguing disc of British music comes from cellist
Natalie Clein and pianist Christian Ihle Hadland . The discovery is the Viola Sonata by the pioneering Rebecca Clarke, composed 100 years ago, which they perform in the composer’s own cello arrangement, capturing its restless, rhapsodic sweep. Clarke’s work is only beginning to be properly evaluated, and it stands up here to what follows it: the Cello Sonata plus a few miniatures by Frank Bridge, searchingly played, and six brief folk-song studies by Vaughan Williams. Erica Jeal