Notes and Editorial Reviews
Konstantin Lifschitz (pn); Stuttgart CO
ORFEO 828112 (2 CDs: 108:33)
Well, well! We have a winner in the Bach Keyboard Concerto CD contest, and it is Konstantin Lifschitz, winner of a Grammy in 1996 for his recording of the
And what is it, exactly, that places Lifschitz head and shoulders above his competition? It is the style he employs, difficult to put into words
but immediately discernible to the ear, wherein he plays these works (along with the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra) in a manner that is more curved than linear, more flowing than staccato, with innumerable details of shading, coloring, and yes, even additional little musical fillips. I had to hit the Back button on my CD player a few times while listening to his recording of BWV 1052 because I couldn’t believe my ears. Lifschitz adds a few little turns (you might, untechnically, call them half-trills) and, at one point, actually plays a left-hand figuration in a completely different rhythmic stress from the right. This is Bach pianism at the highest level of art and technique, and it is to Lifschitz’s credit that he manages all of this within a pure, continent style.
As I say, in the hands of this pianist and orchestra the music is “curved.” By this I mean that it flows like water, in a consistent legato stream that lifts the notes off the page. Anyone who has ever seen even one page of an original Bach manuscript (one such is reproduced here, on the inside back cover of the fold-out cardboard packaging) will know what I mean. The way Bach drew the connecting lines of his 16th and 32nd notes, for that matter the notes and stems themselves, was curved—sometimes almost a curlicue—and not ruler-edged straight. I have always taken this as an indication of the way he wanted his music played and sung. I firmly believe that Wilhelm Furtwängler was right when he said that Bach was not the end of the Baroque composers but the first Romantic. It’s all there in the music, if you have the wit to hear it. Anyone who plays the famous
Air on the G String
in a manner other than legato, and sensuous legato at that, has no understanding of what they’re playing, and to my ears, what goes for the
Air on the G String
goes for the slow movements of his concertos. Then, if you are to play the Andante and Adagio movements of his concertos as you would play the
, you must of necessity play the outer movements in a similar manner. QED. In their capable hands, the music not only has sparkle and momentum, but also gravitas. One of the highest compliments I can pay to Lifschitz is that his performance of the Concerto in D Minor reminded me of a performance I once heard played by George Shearing.
The purists may still throw their hands up in frustration, since Lifschitz uses the cadenza in the last movement of the first concerto that was written by Johannes Brahms … and, of course, he’s also using a modern piano, the Philistine! But, of course, the Coming of St. Glenn Gould has permanently influenced our Bach listening. Thanks to Gould, it’s OK to use a modern piano in Bach as long as you play in a crisp manner with little or no pedal, even when the accompanying orchestra, as here, is using recorders and straight tone in the strings. It’s curious that although Michael Hofstetter is credited as the orchestra’s current music director and conductor, his name does not appear in the credits for this album. Thus I would assume that they are either playing without a conductor, or Lifschitz is conducting from the keyboard. In either case, they follow the pianist’s lead with both exact musical precision and exactly the same feeling for the music, note for note and phrase for phrase.
This is a recording to take its place alongside the sonatas and partitas for solo violin as played by Sigiswald Kuijken, Benjamin Britten’s classic account of the
Helmuth Rilling’s recording of the
St. Matthew Passion
, Wanda Landowska’s
and Monica Huggett’s recent version of the
St. John Passion
as being among the most treasurable Bach recordings ever issued. This one is a must.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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