András Schiff – Bach – The Well Tempered Clavier

1. Prelude in C Major 1:06, Fugue in C Major 2:48 (BWV 846) 2. Prelude in C Minor 4:40, Fugue in C Minor 6:20 (BWV 847) 3. Prelude in C-Sharp Major 7:58, Fugue in C-Sharp Major 9:30 (BWV 848) 4. Prelude in C-Sharp Minor 11:59, Fugue in C-Sharp Minor 14:23 (BWV 849) 5. Prelude in D Major 18:34, Fugue in D Major 19:56 (BWV 850) 6. Prelude in D Minor 21:37, Fugue in D Minor 23:50 (BWV 851) 7. Prelude in E-Flat Major 26:15, Fugue in E-Flat Major 29:58 (BWV 852) 8. Prelude in E-Sharp Minor 31:38, Fugue in D-Sharp Minor 35:03 (BWV 853) 9. Prelude in E Major 39:48, Fugue in E Major 41:06 (BWV 854) 10. Prelude in E Minor 42:11, Fugue in E Minor 44:24 (BWV 855) 11. Prelude in F Major 45:29, Fugue in F Major 46:27 (BWV 856) 12. Prelude in F Minor 47:47, Fugue in F Minor 49:49 (BWV 857) 13. Prelude in F-Sharp Major 54:17, Fugue in F-Sharp Major 55:51 (BWV 858) 14. Prelude in F-Sharp Minor 57:42, Fugue in F-Sharp Minor 58:38 (BWV 859) 15. Prelude in G Major 1:01:23, Fugue in G Major 1:02:17 (BWV 860) 16. Prelude in G Minor 1:05:20, Fugue in G Minor 1:07:28 (BWV 861) 17. Prelude in A-Flat Major 1:09:03, Fugue in A-Flat Major 1:10:21 (BWV 862) 18. Prelude in G-Sharp Minor 1:12:36, Fugue in G-Sharp Minor 1:14:04 (BWV 863) 19. Prelude in A Major 1:16:07, Fugue in A Major 1:17:18 (BWV 864) 20. Prelude in A Minor 1:19:35, Fugue in A Minor 1:20:31 (BWV 865) 21. Prelude in B-Flat Major 1:24:24, Fugue in B-Flat Major 1:25:44 (BWV 866) 22. Prelude in B-Flat Minor 1:27:24, Fugue in B-Flat Minor 1:30:03 (BWV 867) 23. Prelude in B Major 1:32:58, Fugue in B Major 1:33:59 (BWV 868) 24. Prelude in B Minor 1:36:12, Fugue in B Minor 1:41:01 (BWV 869)

If you know Bach’s Goldberg Variations only through the eternally best-selling recordings by Glenn Gould, you have not really heard the work. Gould was a brilliant but idiosyncratic player whose approach to Bach might be compared to Laurence Olivier’s renditions of Shakespeare: the art can obscure the matter. Furthermore, the Goldbergs drastically change character when they are transferred from the harpsichord, for which they were written, to the piano. The equal-tempered tuning of the modern piano is markedly different from tuning systems of the early eighteenth century, and the instrument’s opulent sonorities cast a Romantic blur over Bach’s harmony and counterpoint. To avoid muddying the texture, pianists rely on a clean, detached style, and as a result the music too often sounds subdued, fastidious, even soporific.

This is not to say that presenting Bach on the piano is any sort of categorical mistake. The composer took an interest in new instruments, including the fortepiano, and his music should not be confined to the technologies of his time. When a pianist on the order of Murray Perahia or András Schiff undertakes the Goldbergs, it is hardly an inauthentic experience. Nor does the use of a harpsichord guarantee historical accuracy; no one knows for certain how these pieces should go. Even so, Bach on a harpsichord sounds clearer, brighter, more incisive—curiously, more modern. When Virgil Thomson heard the pioneering harpsichord revivalist Wanda Landowska play the Goldbergs in 1942, he spoke of “pungency and high relief.” The mechanism of the piano bops strings with felt-covered hammers. That of the harpsichord plucks the strings; notes pierce the ear more than they stroke it. Up close, the harpsichord can be a wild, prickly beast.

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Home listening: Llŷr Williams’s Beethoven at Wigmore Hall; Marc-André Hamelin does Schubert



Britain’s music lovers have many reasons to be thankful for London’s Wigmore Hall, not least for the Monday broadcasts of lunchtime concerts on Radio 3 (1pm, repeated on Sundays and available on iPlayer). These offer a glimpse of the many imaginative recital series programmed by the hall’s director, John Gilhooly, one of which is now available in a 12-CD box set, entitled Beethoven Unbound (Signum Classics). Gilhooly asked Welsh virtuoso Llŷr Williams for a Beethoven piano sonata cycle spread over nine concerts, which would allow time for other keyboard works to be interleaved. The result is not a chronological sonata series, but a succession of live mini-recitals. So, for instance, the mighty Hammerklavier sonata (No 29 in B-flat major, Op 106) is followed by Six Bagatelles, Op 126, and the Eroica Variations precede the Funeral March sonata No 12 and Les adieux, Op 81a. Williams plays with profound intelligence and a wittily knowing ear for the quirky surprises Beethoven lays in the path of the pianist; witness his handling of the Fantasia in G minor, Op 77, a piece he happily describes as “totally bonkers”.

Marc Andre Hamelin
Marc-André Hamelin.

Schubert is next for the box-set treatment from Williams but, in the meantime, Canadian pianist Marc-André Hamelin has a new Schubert release on Hyperion that demands attention. His sensitive interpretations of the Sonata in B-flat major D960 and the Four Impromptus D935 will be hard to better, particular the songlike quality he brings to Impromptu No 2 in A-flat major, the right-hand melody one long line of sinuous beauty.

Inside Music is shaping up to be an enjoyable addition to Saturday listening on Radio 3. Each week, a musician takes the listener inside several pieces, revealing why they are significant to them and how composers achieve those moments that stop you in your tracks. Conductor Nicholas Collon recently gave several interesting insights into music as diverse as Ravel’s La Valse and Haydn’s Symphony No 92. He also championed the music of Marie Jaëll (left), who – like so many female composers – has not had the recognition she deserves. See if you agree by catching the programme on iPlayer.

Pianist Lauren Zhang wins BBC Young Musician

The 16-year-old from Birmingham won the title in the 40th year of the competition

A 16-year-old pianist has won this year’s BBC Young Musician award. Lauren Zhang, who lives and studies in Birmingham, competed against 18-year-old saxophonist Robert Burton and 18-year-old cellist Maxim Calver to win the title in the 40th year of the competition.

She performed Prokofiev’s 2nd Piano Concerto in G minor, op.16 with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra conducted by Mark Wigglesworth.

The judges praised her performance of a hugely challenging and ambitious work: “Her exceptional level of technical skill and intelligent musicality shone through in a beast of a piece,” said Kerry Andrew, chair of the judging panel.

“She has a natural genuine musicianship … and a real intelligence,” said violinist and previous winner Nicola Benedetti.

Lauren said: “I’m astonished … I can’t quite believe it! It’s been a fantastic opportunity to play with the CBSO and the journey right from the start of the competition has been incredible.”

Lauren is currently studying for her GCSEs at King Edward VI High School for Girls – she has three exams on Tuesday – and also attends the Birmingham Junior Conservatoire. She began learning the piano at the age of four and also plays the violin.

Born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Lauren and her family moved to Birmingham in 2010. At the Junior Conservatoire she is taught by Robert Markham, who himself was a finalist in the BBC Young Musician competition in 1986.

Principal of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Julian Lloyd Webber said: “Having spent a lifetime making music with some of the world’s finest musicians I can honestly say that Lauren is up there with the best – she is a total phenomenon.”

She is a compelling performer, said concert pianist Tom Poster, one of the judges in the keyboard final. “As she played, there was an electricity in the room. People were really listening.”

Judging Sunday’s final alongside Andrew were conductor Alpesh Chauhan, cellist Natalie Clein, saxophonist John Harle and pianist Sunwook Kim. Also at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall to hand over the trophy, and perform himself for the audience while the judges conferred, was 2016’s winner Sheku Kanneh-Mason. His 15-year-old sister Jeneba was one of this year’s keyboard category finalists.

Lauren will be performing on the BBC Radio 3 stage at BBC Music’s The Biggest Weekend in Coventry on 28 May and at the Young Musician 40th anniversary concert at the Proms on 15 July.

Martha Argerich – Chopin Prelude – Op.28 No.4

Martha Argerich

 

 

Having seen her Lugano fest close for lack of Swiss francs, the inspirational pianist has been asked to curate a festival of her own with the Hamburg Symphony.

Martha will play four-hand with Daniel Barenboim and various chamber works with Mischa Maisky,Thomas Hampson, Ivry Gitlis and her own daughters, Lyda Chen and Annie Dutoit. Barenboim’s son Michael will also take part.

The festival starts on June 25.