The Italian pianist on JS Bach, Glenn Gould and playing in England
'Andrea Bacchetti’s latest recording of Bach’s great set of variations is one of the most wonderful things I have ever heard,' wrote critic Michael Tanner in BBC Music Magazine. The Italian pianist has recorded the masterly Goldberg Variations three times in his life, with his latest version, on the Dynamic label, out earlier this year. Growing up in Italy, Bacchetti met artists including Luciano Berio, Herbert von Karajan and Nikita Magaloff, and made his concert debut at the age of 11. As well as Bach's Goldberg Variations, he's also recorded the Two-Part Inventions, Toccatas and English Suites.
JS Bach is one of the mainstays of your repertoire. What do you love about his music?
I particularly love the universality and 'eternal' quality of his music. It transcends epochs, and can be performed on any instrument. Then there's also his polyphony, which for me represents something indescribable, like a sense of strength, power and soul, and something uncontrollable. Bach is essential for the musician, like the sea for the fish. Luciano Berio, whom I studied and worked with from childhood, always told me that Bach must be my daily bread.
You’ve recorded JS Bach’s Goldberg Variations three times – what’s the lure of the work?
It's a piece that never stops fascinating me. There are the technical challenges, which I have devoted many years of work to and naturally there's also the beauty of the music and harmony.
How was your interpretation changed each time?
It's been constant evolution. I began to work on the Goldbergs in 2003 to help improve my technique. I gave myself two months to memorise and fully understand it. I'd discover something of new interest every day while I was studying it – every reading of it is different. It felt like a 'continuous crescendo'.
After I'd performed the work in concert, I recorded a DVD of it for Arthaus. Then I made a second recording. Many critics found common points between my interpretation and Rosalyn Tureck's. I bought her recording and listened to it many times, so often that I found myself, without planning to, feeling a great affinity with it. Even in the slow tempos the rhythmic vitality is joyful and her playing is full of emotion.
In general the interpretations I have listened to from the big pianists of today – András Schiff, Murray Perahia – are all faster. Many of the variations are virtuosic but one mustn't forget the music's form and emotion. I've continued to study and, almost without wanting to, I've increased the tempos of all the variations and the theme itself. In the course of three years I went from playing the Goldbergs in 80 minutes to 70 minutes. The original aim of improving my technique has also taken place over five years, and that has helped me to understand this masterpiece.
Can you tell us about your approach to ornamentation?
There are so many different ways of embellishing. It's a subject of much study, but one also has to use instinct. I've also read CPE Bach's manual with great interest, and I've tried to use the idea of spontaneous improvisation. Although I think you can do more improvisation in a live concert than on a recording, and that a recording is more about what's written in the score. Often, though, ornamentation is natural and uncontrolled.
You’ve been described as the new Glenn Gould. Do you welcome this description?
I am honoured by such a comparison. I don’t believe I deserve it. Glenn Gould is a unique artist from any perspective. I have never tried to imitate any great pianist. I have always tried to understand their musical thoughts, but at the same time I try to express my own thoughts. I've always worked in this way.
Who are your artistic inspirations?
For Bach, I particularly admire Mieczysław Horszowski, who I knew when I was young. He listened to me play and I remember he was impressed. After that I spoke to his students and old friends, particularly violinist and conductor Rudolf Baumgartner, who I worked and studied with for years and I began to appreciate his integrity, sincerity and emotion.
At the moment, British fans can only enjoy your performances on disc. Do you have any plans to head to the UK to perform anytime soon?
A very good question. For a while I have been looking for a manager in London to help promote my activities here. Performing in the UK is very important to me – the English public is particularly knowledgeable. I've got some exciting plans over the next few years, and I hope that there will be new opportunities in the UK.
Interview by Rebecca Franks