Review by: Jed Distler
Artistic Quality: 8
Sound Quality: 10
J.S. Bach bookended his Clavier-Übung III (the German Organ Mass) with his so-called “St. Anne” Prelude and Fugue in E-flat, putting the Prelude at the beginning and the Fugue at the end. Francesco Piemontesi does the same thing here, using Ferruccio Busoni’s wonderful piano transcription of that organ work. Piemontesi’s crisp articulation and lean textures offer a stimulating modern alternative to the massive, fuller-bodied Edwin Fischer and Egon Petri recordings of yore.
The pianist’s bracing alla breve conception of the Bach/Busoni “Wachet auf” stands out for its lightness and imaginative textural differentiation. He’s also one of the few artists who sets and sustains a steady tempo throughout “Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland”, whereas most interpreters grow heavier and slower as the music progresses.
By contrast, I find Piemontesi’s dynamic dips and agogic stresses in the Italian Concerto’s outer movements rather arch. There’s also a tinge of self-awareness to his holdbacks and diminuendos in the Bach/Kempff Siciliano, in contrast to the fluid and natural expressiveness that Dinu Lipatti brings to this transcription, not to mention Kempff himself. But what an array of shapely colors Piemontesi coaxes from the Schnaus transcription’s extended passages in the piano’s higher registers.
The pianist’s cool and pinpointed control throughout Busoni’s Toccata befits the music’s nature, although Roland Pöntinen’s CPO recording offers a higher degree of melodic inflection in the motoric sequences, plus a wider berth of rubato within quieter, brooding moments. One may quibble over Piemontesi’s “unhyphenated” Bach, yet he’s totally at home with Busoni’s musical and pianistic aesthetic. PentaTone’s superb sonics do full justice to the pianist’s well-sculpted and penetrating sonority.
Album Title: Bach Nostalghia
Reference Recording: None for this collection
Prelude and Fugue in E- flat BWV 552 (“St. Anne”, transcribed by Busoni); Two Chorale Preludes (transcribed by Busoni); Flute Sonata in E-flat BWV 1031: Siciliano (transcribed by Kempff); 6 Schübler Chorales BWV 645-650: Kommst du nun, Jesu, vom Himmel herunter BWV 650 (transcribed by Schnaus)
- Francesco Piemontesi (piano)
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