JS Bach: Prelude & Fugue in D

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COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Prelude & Fugue in D; Prelude & Fugue in E minor (The Wedge); Toccata & Fugue in D minor; O Mensch, bewein’ dein’ Sünde gross etc
PERFORMER: Markus Becker (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67683

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Almost alone among the great transcribers of Bach’s organ works for piano, Max Reger was both a formidable pianist and a great organist who really knew the works from inside the loft.

That spurred him to mimic the special qualities of organ stops and couplings in his piano-writing, resulting in an immensely solid, full-bodied sonority which requires considerable creative exercise of rubato as the full range of the instrument is involved in a rich registration from pedal notes upward. The late-Romantic convention in which the bass notes were played marginally ahead of time to spread the harmony here finds a very logical justification, as Francis Pott’s excellent booklet essay points out.

Markus Becker is a heroic exponent of this obscure yet satisfying repertoire, less ‘pianistic’ than the contemporary Bach-Busoni arrangements yet setting the performer equal if not greater challenges. The core of the two discs is Reger’s series of Chorale Prelude transcriptions, in some of which – such as ‘Wenn wir im höchsten Nöten sein’ and ‘Es ist das Heil’ – he finds a profound and plangent expressiveness.

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The big fugal compositions, if more conventional in their magisterial splendour, are still notable feats of interpretation by Becker, especially the E flat and Wedge Prelude and Fugues. Only in Reger’s version of the famous D minor Toccata and Fugue did I feel the plethora of notes was causing a diminishing return, restricting Becker to unduly ponderous tempos. A fascinating addition to Hyperion’s series of Bach transcriptions. Calum MacDonald