All Around Bach
JS Bach: Solo Concerto, BWV 979; Solo Concerto in F, BWV 971 ‘Italian’; Chorale Preludes – excerpts (arr. Busoni); Phantasy and Fugue in G minor, BWV 542 (arr. Liszt); Franck: Prelude, Fugue et Variation, Op. 18 (arr. saxophone and piano)*; Liszt: Phantasy and Fugue on B-A-C-H
*Asya Fateyeva (saxophone), Stepan Simonian (piano)
CAvi-music AVI8553988 67:38 mins
Russian-born German pianist Stepan Simonian presents a collection of works based on Bach, journeying from JSB’s own arrangements in the 18th century to adaptations by Busoni, César Franck and Liszt in the late 19th.
From the outset, Simonian reveals his dazzling technique with blazing passagework and spirited rhythms in the fast movements of BWV 979, balanced with wistful and lyrical playing in the slow movements. Here, and in the Italian Concerto, Simonian exploits the piano’s vast expressive range and the potential of its pedals to enhance dynamic and colouristic effects, offsetting a big, concert-hall sound with moments of hushed intimacy. Despite the resonant recording, contrapuntal lines and ornaments remain lucid.
Two works by Liszt form the core of the programme: the celebrated Fantasia and Fugue on the letters of Bach’s name, and his arrangement of Bach’s own Fantasia and Fugue BWV 542. Simonian brings beefy, Russian-school virtuosity to the former, building the musical architecture into a towering monument. The Fantasia of the latter work is rather pummelled out, but the Fugue is crisp and beautifully articulated. Interweaving these warhorses are Busoni’s arrangements of three chorale preludes to which Simonian brings muscular certitude (‘In dir ist Freude’), gravitas (‘Jesus Christus, unser Heiland’) and joie de vivre (‘Nun freut Euch’). An arrangement for piano and soprano saxophone of César Franck’s Prélude, fugue et variation, Op. 18 seems a schmaltzy addition, though it’s gracefully played by Simonian and his saxophonist wife, Asya Fateyeva.