JS Bach; Fantasy and Fugue in G minor, BWV 542 (tr. Liszt)

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COMPOSERS: Brahms,Handel,JS Bach,Liszt
LABELS: Avanti
WORKS: JS Bach: Fantasy and Fugue in G minor, BWV 542 (tr. Liszt); Partita No. 1 in B flat, BWV 825 Brahms: Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel; Handel: Suite in B, HWV 434; Liszt: Vallée d’Obermann from Années de pèlerinage
PERFORMER: Francesco Piemontesi (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 5414706 10342 (hybrid CD/SACD)

Musical pedigrees don’t come much better than Francesco Piemontesi’s. At 28, the Swiss pianist has been through many fine musical rites of passage, including the Borletti-Buitoni Trust, BBC New Generation Artists and the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels. In this recital – an album dedicated to one of his mentors, pianist Alfred Brendel – he proves his worth.
It’s not just intelligent programme planning – Handel paired with Brahms’s response to him, JS Bach respectively with Liszt’s – that makes Piemontesi stand out; this is seriously classy pianism. Clarity of thought is complemented by clarity of touch, incisive intellect by a good dose of fantasy. The details are a joy: the gradual accelerando into the Handel Prelude, the improvised ornamentation in the Bach Partita, the rhythmic springiness that underpins the Baroque works and equally the Brahms that pays tribute to them. The lightest, clearest moments of the Brahms Handel Variations – try Variation XVI – are exquisitely voiced and full of charm, and these qualities are to be found elsewhere, in the richest and strongest variations, fugue and all. There’s space to breathe and to dance. 
The Liszt transcription of Bach’s Fantasy and Fugue in G minor has huge panache: Piemontesi seems to relish recreating the sonorities of a cathedral organ on a mere grand piano. If there’s any weaker spot, it’s Vallée d’Obermann: while Piemontesi embraces Liszt’s intellectual side, he is perhaps a tad reserved in capturing the composer’s impassioned heart. Spacious but clear recording quality enhances the lot. Jessica Duchen