Notes and Editorial Reviews
Introduction and Air,
Récitatif et Air,
Concerto in a (after Vivaldi),
Concerto in d (after Vivaldi),
Nadejda Vlaeva (pn)
HYPERION CDA67873 (77:09)
Having given us some fascinating examples of re-imaginings of the Baroque composer’s works through the lenses of such formidable Romantic composers and arrangers as Busoni, Reger, Feinberg, Rummel, d’Albert, and others to date, Hyperion’s Bach Piano Transcription series has now, with the current offering, reached number 10. Featuring the reworkings of both Camille Saint-Saëns and Isidore Philipp, this is an intelligently programmed recital. Two larger suite-like collections of transcriptions by Saint-Saëns are composed of smaller items (from cantatas and solo violin movements), worked out in rather meticulous detail, with especially clear and transparent textures. Two larger works, transcriptions by Philipp of compositions by Bach, in turn inspired by Vivaldi concertos, are used in intermediary and concluding roles. Where Saint-Saëns’s textures are lean, Philipp’s are full-bodied, even thick at certain moments; the juxtaposition of the two transcriber’s works arranged in this way make the performance all the more coherent—almost like a true recital—in the creation of two halves of equal length, of equal importance, yet with enough variation to keep the listener’s interest. This is no small feat considering that these are all transcriptions of the same composer’s works.
Nadejda Vlaeva, a young Bulgarian pianist who has studied with some formidable teachers including Anton Dikov, Jan Wijn, Ruth Laredo, and Lazar Berman, possesses just the right temperament for this music. She works to bring out the special character of each selection. From the grandiosity of the D-Minor Concerto or the Ouverture, BWV 29, through the more lyrical and tender moments of the Adagio and Andantino movements (from the cantatas BWV 3 and 8, respectively), to the more lighthearted yet spirited playing of the dance-inspired movements from the solo violin works, Vlaeva always has a special sound in mind. This may be a truly romantic sound, but one need just listen to observe how well it works here. Given the rather talented pianists that Hyperion has chosen to record this series, it is only a wonder as to where they will go next. To which re-creative minds will this series now turn? That is a question to which I eagerly await an answer. As for the present: exceptional music, interesting transcriptions, clear sound, and excellent performances. Get it and enjoy your dose of 19th-century Bach.
FANFARE: Scott Noriega
It’s salutary to realise that this is now the tenth volume in Hyperion’s ‘Piano Transcriptions’ series, one that is proving outstanding in every way. Whereas volume nine was devoted to transcriptions by a phalanx of British composers — Berners, Goossens, Howells, Fryer, Bax, Borwick, Bantock.— this one concentrates on two Frenchmen. The majority of works are from the two sets of transcriptions published by Saint-Saëns, but there are also two big Bach-Vivaldi transcriptions by the great pianist Isidore Philipp.
Saint-Saëns’ transcriptions were published in 1862 and 1873 and were clearly helpful in propagating Bach’s works domestically and professionally in France. They are also stunningly impressive in their own right. For both sets he chose music from cantatas, and solo violin works. The earlier set opens with the
Ouverture from Cantata No. 29 in which Nadejda Vlaeva displays a splendid sense of colour and rhythmic energy, applying bass accenting with apposite weight and voicing appealingly. The
Adagio from Cantata No. 3 is full of expression and then pealing vehemence, Saint-Saëns exploiting the rapid oscillation between the two for its full effect. The richly plangent
Andantino from Cantata No.8 is one of the disc’s highlights. The single movements from the First Violin Partita and the Second Violin Sonata are deftly played, and fully assured contrapuntally. As ever Saint-Saëns knows how to end a sequence and as with his fabulous Études, he ends the first set with a scintillating transcription of the Presto from Cantata No.35.
For the later set he took the
Fugue from the Third Sonata for Violin, adding its
Largo for good measure — and there’s plenty of panache and bravado here, and effulgence in the latter movement. The piece that ends this second set, the
Choeur from Cantata No.30, is textually quite thick, and genuinely celebratory.
Isidore Philipp (1863-1958) was a friend of Saint-Saëns, and a most distinguished musician in his own right. In 1935 he recorded some of his friend’s cello music with Paul Bazelaire, a disc still available on Pearl. His rich, powerful transcriptions of the two Bach (after Vivaldi) concertos are resplendent, exciting, virtuosically inclined in their extrovert intensity, and their richly refined and rewarding slow movements. Their confidence, dramatic octave doublings, and swagger, make for blistering, and wholly marvellous listening.
As ever Hyperion’s booklet is first class in all respects and the recorded sound is perfectly judged.
Bulgarian pianist Nadejda Vlaeva proves a heroic interpreter of these works, driving through with panache, rounded tone, richly balanced chords, strikingly intimate gestures and intense, but never tone-forced, splendour.
-- Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb International
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