A Bach Book for Harriet Cohen

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Bach
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Bach transcriptions by Bantock, Bax, Berners, Bliss, Bridge, Goossens, Howells, Ireland, Lambert, Vaughan Williams, Walton, Whittaker; plus others by Borwick, Cohen, Hess, Foss, Fryer, Stevenson
PERFORMER: Jonathan Plowright (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67767

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Bach arrangements, unfashionable for so long, seem to be in vogue again. There was a whole BBC Prom of Bach orchestrations this summer, and Hyperion has reached volume 9 in its series of ‘Bach piano transcriptions’.

It centres on A Bach Book for Harriet Cohen, a 1932 anthology of arrangements made for the Bach-loving pianist by 12 leading British composers.

Most are based on organ music, but the approach varies widely, from Constant Lambert’s plain Der Tag, der ist so freudenreich, without dynamics, phrasing or even tempo marking, to Vaughan Williams’s expressive Ach, bleib bei uns, with enriched harmonies and an added tenor line.

This mixed dozen is complemented by a handful of other British transcriptions, including Myra Hess’s famous Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring and Ronald Stevenson’s Komm, süsser Tod, oddly refracted through Stokowski’s flamboyant orchestration.

Jonathan Plowright plays everything with calm, unforced assurance, nicely balancing Bach style and 1930s period manners, and making light of all the left-hand skips needed to suggest Bach’s organ pedal parts.

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An immaculate recording and Calum MacDonald’s detailed notes enhance the disc’s appeal. But I suggest listening a bit at a time to what can’t help sounding like a long string of encores. Anthony Burton