Rachmaninov, Bach, Marcello, Handel and Gluck

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COMPOSERS: Bach,Handel and Gluck,Marcello,Rachmaninov
LABELS: Warner
ALBUM TITLE: Baroque Reflections
WORKS: Variations on a Theme of Corelli
PERFORMER: Alessio Bax (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 2564-61695-2
Pianist Alessio Bax, winner of the 2000 Leeds International Competition, puts together a well curated yet unevenly executed programme of Baroque transcriptions and Baroque-inspired works. The main problem lies with Bax’s erratic sense of rhythm. His agogic adjustments at the outset of the Marcello/Bach D minor Concerto, for example, make it difficult to perceive the basic tempo. By contrast, Glenn Gould’s rock-steady pulse and superior polyphonic skills place the ‘orchestral’ and ‘solo’ material in perfect perspective. The pianist’s dynamic hairpins in the beloved Bach/ Hess ‘Jesu, Joy’ sound mannered and arch next to the flowing simplicity distinguishing Hewitt, Fleisher, Lipatti, and Hess herself. Similarly, the Gluck/Sgambati Mélodie’s accompanying chords fail to provide a lilting anchor to the sublime melody, thanks to Bax’s fidgety rubatos. Slack rhythm also undoes Bax in Rachmaninov’s Corelli Variations. The wavering basic tempi of Vars 3 and 8 blur the sardonic intention behind the composer’s carefully deployed silences, while Var. 7 is rushed and over pedalled. Nor does Bax clearly define Var. 13’s triplets or Var. 17’s syncopations. You’ll find more disciplined, unified playing in either of Ashkenazy’s two Decca recordings of the work. On the other hand, the Bach/Busoni Toccata and Fugue and Handel/Liszt Chaconne are lean, propulsive and powerful, while the pianist’s clean dispatch of the ‘Bach-maninov’ Prelude from the E major Violin Partita is wonderfully lithe and transparent. In all, a disc that promises more than it delivers. Jed Distler