Works by JS Bach – trans. Busoni, M Hess, Liszt, Saint-Saëns, Siloti and Szántó
Emmanuel Despax (piano)
Signum Classics SIGCD665 80:30 mins
Emmanuel Despax appears to be floating on fluffy clouds in a blue sky. One arm is crooked at his neck, another rests on his hip in a gesture of serene openness. Around him, people bustle about – but he’s immune to their stress. It’s the type of imagery we might associate with a meditation app, not a solo piano album. However, the Bach transcriptions featured in Spira, Spera (Breathe, Hope) can help us find stillness better than any mindfulness tech. Despax channels the cleansing complexity of Bach in a programme that predictably includes Busoni’s version of the Chaconne from Violin Partita No. 2 and ‘Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme’, as well as Myra Hess’s ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring’. But there are also lesser-known versions of Fantasia and Fugue in G minor and the Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor by Hungarian pianist Theodor Szántó (1877–1934), which are first recordings and critical additions to recorded piano literature. Like fellow Bach fan Angela Hewitt, Despax favours a Fazioli piano, exquisitely captured here. Although Spira, Spera feels pandemic-inspired, the title is actually taken from Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre-Dame and reflects on the Notre-Dame Cathedral fire, where Despax attended many concerts of Bach’s music.
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