COMPOSERS: JS Bach
ALBUM TITLE: JS Bach
WORKS: Keyboard concertos BWV 1053-1065 & BWV 1058
PERFORMER: Nick van Bloss (piano); English Chamber Orchestra/David Parry
CATALOGUE NO: NI 6141
Amid a plethora of recordings of Bach’s keyboard concertos, many of them recent, Nick van Bloss can claim the remarkable achievement of creating a thoroughly distinctive sound. No one else matches the crystalline clarity of his fingering, his ability to find motifs and figures hidden in the textures, and his hypnotic driving sense of pulse. I listened with an ‘innocent ear’, before reading the liner notes and having forgotten a 2007 Horizon TV programme (Google ‘Mad but Glad’) describing his Tourette’s syndrome, incessant muscular spasms which only piano-playing can relieve. When even this failed him, he spent 15 years in the wilderness, playing solely for himself. Neurologist Oliver Sacks suggested that the disability itself is transferred to his playing. Whatever the cause, the effect is truly striking.
Fast movements are driven by crisp, generally staccato, touch, though he constantly reveals expressive nuances – a momentary slur, an abrupt phrase-ending – which shed new light on this familiar repertoire. He constantly emphasises the bass line (sometimes to the point of understating the upper part), exposing Bach’s masterful equality of contrapuntal interest in both. He can, though, suppress and control the nervous energy in slow movements. The first (BWV 1055) spins a legato thread of heavenly length, yet still with the clarity of touch – and not an audible hint of pedal.
The English Chamber Orchestra is infected by his inspiration, while the recording is beautifully balanced and alive.