Top positive review
6 people found this helpful
on 6 November 2005
This CD deserves five stars on all levels: the transcriptions in themselves range from great to brilliant; Slatkin and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra play impeccably. And the recording quality is really good. So whoever listens to this CD on a really good (preferably high-end) stereo will benefit from still another dimension of joy.
As I said, apart from a transcription by Schönberg (which I really didn’t like at all) the other works are all just wonderful. Some of them though stand out particularly. First of all, Slatkins casting of instruments on the Passacaglia and Fugue BWV 582 and his and the BBC’s performance make this the best version of BWV 582 I ever listened to. And then you have to mention definitely a truly great transcription of Prelude and Fugue BWV 545 (arr. by Arthur Honneger).
Two first prices go first of all to Elgar’s transcription of Fantasy and fugue BWV 537. Especially the fantasy is so wonderful that I not only have the impression it was Bach himself who did it, but it is even better than Bach’s original version for church organ. I cannot recommend enough Elgar’s version. I said to myself: „Now, this piece has reached its perfection”.
And finally there is that transcription of the famous „Chaconne“ (for solo violin, BWV 1004), played for the first time since its composition in 1873, by a certain Joseph Joachim Raff. This peace alone already would justify getting this CD.
Raff (who is little known in Germany) uses all the symphonic legacy of both the 18th and 19th century and he does it in the most masterful way. And what is more, he doesn’t give in to the common temptation of creating a kind of showcase of virtuosity and technique. He rather employs all those means he has at his disposal in the most subtle manner, bearing witness of a musical instinct that never goes astray. Everything just fits nicely. And therefore, this awe-inspiring version of the Chaconne teaches us also that eclecticism can produce indeed the most gorgeous results.
Obviously, the average supporter of historically accurate playing can only feel horror when confronted with such a daring and unencumbered way of dealing with the great works of the old masters. He will argue that Bach himself must be turning in his grave in the presence of such acts of musical vandalism.
But the question of how Bach would have reacted, nobody can know the answer for sure. But we do know that he transcribed not only the works of others, but especially his own works. And he did it constantly. The fact that passages and motives of his cantatas can appear in a newly dressed manner in his masses could still be explained by the relative proximity of both genres. But Bach went further than that. Pieces for organ suddenly pop up in a violin concerto or cembalo concerto, or vice versa or whatever, you name it. One might even call it “musical promiscuity”, and to put it in a nutshell, Bach himself seems to have been the most fervent transcriber of his own works.
And then there is the list with all those great names who dedicated themselves to transcribing Bach’s works. Of course, in some cases they were mere exercises for the still young composers. And in other cases, it was just rendering pieces of a great scope (including the church organ) performable in private houses.
But I get the impression that guys like Max Reger, Elgar, Busoni, Siloti, Feinberg, Kempff – just to name some of them – created their transcriptions feeling obliged to applying the highest standards and aware of the fact that they were not betraying the muses.
So, those who argue that transcriptions of this kind entail hybrid mixture of different musical styles, violating the principles of the „original“ performance, they are free to do so.
But there are also other more hedonistic oriented spirits who, at least in art and literature, follow the principle that “everything goes that pleases”. Be it N. Harnoncourt, Jordi Savall, Glenn Gould or the transcription of a Joseph Joachim Raff.
To those who love transcriptions of Bach’s works, I would like to recommend the following titles:
1. „Bearbeitungen für Klavier”. Risto Lauriala (piano). (naxos; at amazon.de)
2. „Transkriptionen Vol. 2”, Cyprien Katsaris (piano). (at amazon.de)
3. “Bach: Transcribed Franz Liszt”, Artur Pizarro (piano); (at amazon.co.uk, used, if you’re lucky. A real jewel and rarity).
4. “Chaconne” (Stern, Beyer), amongst which you find a great transcription of Edna Sterns teacher Lutz. Edna Stern plays wonderfully on the Fortepiano. (at amazon.co.uk)
5. “Bach/Gluck/Handel: Keyboard Works and Transcriptions by Wilhelm Kempff“, wonderful pieces played by Kempff himself with unrivalled beauty (at amazon.co.uk).
6. “Bach - Trio Sonatas”, Robert King and the King’s Consort (at amazon.co.uk).