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4.1 out of 5 stars8
4.1 out of 5 stars
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on 2 March 2009
Distinguished pianist Helene Grimaud has finally come around to recording Bach, and, for many, it is definitely a moment that was well worth waiting for. Her interpretations of Bach will not please everyone, especially those who are more comfortable with expressive recordings from the likes of Glenn Gould - whom she does admire greatly - and Simone Dinnerstein. While she professes little interest in period instrument practice, her latest recording features performances that are remarkably limited with respect to her usually expressive qualities, since she treats the modern piano keyboard much in the same manner as she would with the harpsichord, respecting Bach's original intentions by not exploiting the piano's considerably richer sonic qualities. Admittedly for some, this means that hers is a rather routine, quite dull, recording of Bach's keyboard works - including several transcriptions from other instruments - made by such noteworthy successors as Liszt, Busoni and Rachmaninov - but I respectfully disagree. There is much to be quite passionate about in Grimaud's recordings, especially in her delicate performances of selected preludes and fugues from The Well-Tempered Klavier. Indeed, as she, herself notes, in the album's liner notes, there is no right way to perform Bach, except when it is performed in a "...tradition of emotional and intellectual honesty, with the right balance between thought and intuition, between the notes on the page and the pulse of the heart."

Virtually all of the pieces were recorded in August 2008 in a Berlin recording studio. These include not only selected pieces from The Well-Tempered Klavier (No.2 in C minor, No. 4 in C sharp minor (Book 1), No. 6 in D minor, No. 20 in A minor, No. 9 in E major (Book 2), but also Busoni's transcription of the Chaconne in D minor (arranged from Violin Partita no. 2, BWV 1004), Liszt's transcription of the Prelude and Fugue in A minor (arranged from BWV 543 for organ), and Rachmaninov's transcription of the Prelude in E major (arranged from Violin Partita no. 3, BWV 1006). Her interest in performing these transcriptions was to determine how well these latter-day composers conveyed Bach's original musical thought, and, judging from her performances, they most certainly succeeded. Directing from the keyboard, Grimaud leads the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen in a spirited, most vibrant, performance of the Bach Concerto for Piano No. 1 in D minor, BWV 1052; itself a transcription of a concerto written originally for the violin, then transcribed by Bach, first for the organ, and then, the piano. Without question this is yet another fine recording from Grimaud, certain to win further admiration from her most devout fans and other admirers.
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on 12 February 2012
Four and a half OVERALL Stars!! Five Stars for Grimaud!! So much Bach from so many angles by one of the world's greatest pianists!!! Award-winning French virtuoso pianist Hélène Grimaud, in the third decade of her career, adds the works of Johann Sebastian Bach to her recorded repertoire, completing all '3 Bs' (Bach, Beethoven, & Brahms) for her discography. She has performed Bach before, most nobably a live blazing, nuanced Chaconne, which to my mind may in the end be her 'signature piece'. And the performances by this musical dynamo on this CD are just as brilliant, covering five prelude-fugue pairings from Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, his Concerto for Harpsichord, Strings, and Continuo No. 1 in D Minor with the vaunted Bremen German Chamber Philharmonic (Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen) orchestra (Ms Grimaud is on piano), and 3 notable transcriptions/re-workings for solo piano by master virtuosos/composers: Liszt's transcription of the Prelude and Fugue in A Minor, Rachmaninov's Preludio based on Bach's Partita for Violin Solo No. 3 in E, and the awesome Bach/Busoni Chaconne in D Minor based on Bach's Partita for Violin Solo No. 2 in D Minor.

Grimaud puts her individual stamp on the Well Tempered Clavier prelude-fugue couplings, such as the energetic Book 1, "Prelude in C Minor, BWV 847" that is closer to Richter than Gould and Schiff. And the Book 2, Prelude in A Minor, BWV 889, which is conversely closer to Gould than Richter, and the Fugue which is the opposite, is still idiomatic Grimaud. But with all due respect to the prelude and fugue couplings and the Concerto which are marvelous from the Grimaud performance perspective, the pieces that consume my interest are the three aforementioned variations and arrangements by Busoni, Rachmaninov, and Liszt. Bach/Busoni Chaconne in D minor is a thing of pure beauty & Ms Grimaud puts her stamp on this work with an awesome performance. Also there are great performances of Liszt's Prelude and Fugue in A Minor and the Rachmaninov Preludio. On the Concerto for Harpsichord, Strings, and Continuo, the Bremen German Chamber Philharmonic orchestra is recorded somewhat behind Ms Grimaud's piano where their sound should be elevated more: an engineering technicality, but even so Grimaud and the orchestra are still magnificent. Hopefully the DDD-limited edition CD version has better sound: Bach - Keyboard Concerto And Piano Solo Pieces [Limited Edition] But, again, Ms Grimaud's Chaconne in D minor is the amazing performance and worth the price of admission on its own, along with the Liszt and Rachmaninov perspectives on Bach. Ms Grimaud is superb!! Highly Recommended. Four and a half WONDERFUL Stars!! (This review is based on an mp3 download)
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on 24 August 2015
Brilliant performer with a deft, but light touch producing cascades of sharply defined notes. I thoroughly enjoyed this interpretation and would recommend her to everyone.
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on 11 November 2008
This disc may polarise opinion as everthing this pianist seems to do- I regret to say much of the antipathy seems to be the result of marketing hype and the way Grimaud's looks are used. Well...whatever, the fact is she is a wonderful pianist and an imaginative programmer. The only weak part of this disc is the concerto and that is principally because the piano is too prominent- which is an engineering rather than a musical issue. The other pieces are beautifully played. The Busoni version of the great Chaconne takes centre stage and rightly so.
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on 15 January 2009
Polyphony and contrapunct are at the essence of Baroque music. Gould understood it perfectly and knew how to play to reveal it. One can be touched or not by his performances but no one can deny that the basis of this music is ingrained in Gould. It's not a question of taste, but of knowledge and technique.

In the case of the very promoted Miss Grimaud and the 5 voice Fugue BWV 849 for instance, imagine a 5 voice choir in which each chorist could not sing their own voice clearly. Before asking the real questions about the significance of this music, basic technical aspects should be solved.

The difficulty in Bach clavier music is that there is no indication of tempo or articulation. The rare indications -often taken as the rule by superficial editors- are usually exceptions, where Bach wanted something else than usual.

In Bach orchestral music for strings in particular, bowing indications are present and reveal the intent of the composer and the polyphony. It is not the case for clavier music: research has demonstrated that baroque composers did not need to.

Often, string players were only enlightened amateurs or musicians with lesser importance than the Kapellmeisters and keyboardists, regarded as the highest educated musicians. Their knowledge came from in depth studying and they knew how to decrypt the score without the help of indications they would have deemed unnecessary.

The origin of this music comes from Protestant liturgy and chants. The articulation is supposed to imitate the voices. Not only that, but motives are themselves associated with this liturgy. Playing a certain motif then, its meaning was understood by those listening, like a reference to the cross for instance.

So this music is coded by nature. Prof. Vera Nosina from Moscow demonstrated that the Fugue BWV 849 details the acceptation by Christ of his destiny on the cross. There are three themes: cross, suffering and destiny. The evolution and relative importance of the themes during the fugue expose this episode.

Therefore not only to play the polyphony is of utmost importance but it is within this polyphony that resides the meaning of the piece. Of course the soloist can insist on a particular aspect while respecting the style of the epoch. This way, many interpretations can co-exist provided they keep in style and thus stay meaningful.

To transform this polyphony in a simple -and thus simplistic- homophonic melody/accompaniment is to romanticize and to occult the meaning of this music. When it is about transcriptions it is not a problem because they are by nature romantic re-works. But when it comes to Bach original Urtext, it is a "contre-sens".

Rules of small speech-like articulation do provide us with a sense of impeccable Baroque style and also with a terrain for the expressivity to come through. They are an opportunity for each artist to find and discover unknown aspects in this rich music.

In conclusion, and to come back to Ms. Grimaud poor romantic effort, she obviously does not know how to bring Bach polyphony out and thus can only glaze over the meaning of this music. This is painfully evident in the 5 voice Fugue BWV 849 from the WTC book 1, and throughout this disc. The orchestral part in no way redeems this disc. The Concerto in D minor lacks architecture and becomes a long stretched out repetitive noodle. The slow movement is oozing romantic yearning while the finale combines homophonic unimaginative lines and poor pianism. This is all about Grimaud, complacent, self serving and commercial.
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on 24 September 2013
As the world's leading virtuoso on a pianola, I have every right to lecture Helene Grimaud on the art of playing Bach on a Steinway. Here are my el cheapo thoughts.

JC had twelve Apostles. Johann Sebastian Bach had ten - his fingers. There is no Simon Peter among them. Equality is theirs. Each one of them speaks ex cathedra in a polyphonic world

On one level, this recital is listenable enough. Ever so daintily, Helene flits between this prelude or that fugue in an arbitrary selection. She also graces us with the Concerto in D Minor and other transcriptions.

Bach can be played with immense power and acuity on a Steinway - but in doing so, the artist must reconcile his polyphony with the over-expressiveness of the beast at their fingertips. Such a continuum predicates musicianship of the highest order, married to intellect and touch. Tureck, Sokolov, Richter, Hewitt and Versipellis Man (Glenn Gould) are in the Goldilocks Zone. When asked to justify her methodology, glamour-puss approaches Bach from a "tradition of emotional and intellectual honesty, with the right balance between thought and intuition, between the notes on the page and the pulse of the heart."

Where is Gore Vidal when one needs him? Bonus points accrue for "un cri du coeur".

Helene, as I hear it, your failure is an infinitesimal one but it's there all the same: your Bach is weighed ever so slightly in favour of your right hand and the polyphony in the bass bears resemblance to semi-detached chordal progressions. Ease up on the pedal, too.

And Missy - I've read that autobiography of yours. Its self-adulation is repulsive. Your claim that every man in the world wants to root you was mocked summarily at the recent meeting of the Australian Knappertsbusch Association. Indeed, a resolution was passed: not to invite you to the Melbourne Cup lest you wander too close to the mounting yards and suffer an indignity at the hands of a longsighted jockey (what the hell, let's have a fiver on you either way).

This recital is still listenable. Boring it ain't. It's soothing to the senses even if it does zippo for the intellect. When is your next dinner-party?
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on 26 July 2015
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on 18 January 2014
I really enjoyed this CD - I really like the sound mixing - the piano is at the forefront and so clear.
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