Notes and Editorial Reviews
Pi-hsien Chen (pn)
PHIL 06015 (2 CDs: 133:01)
Taiwanese-born, German-trained pianist Pi-hsien Chen plays with exceptional charm and elegance. Her calm sense of pacing and her imaginative and original ornamentation only add to the appeal of her playing. This is inward looking Bach keyboard playing, as opposed to the more dramatic, but ultimately more superficial style displayed by Gould, most famously, and Piotr Anderszewski in our day, whose Bach is
undeniably gorgeous in tonal luster and shading, but somewhat opaque emotionally. Chen is more in the introspective manner of Murray Perahia and Richard Goode, who both, in turn, were students of Mieczyslaw Horszowski, arguably the most enchanting Bach keyboard performer of record. The Arbiter release that compiles his magical Bach recordings over the decades, including recitals he made in his 90s, is indispensable for true Bach lovers.
Chen also finds that special glow, relating this secular music to Bach’s most deeply spiritual work. The one spoiler for me is Chen’s tendency to pull at the rhythms here and there to the point of distraction, introducing something of a hiccup to the pulse. I certainly don’t advocate metronomic Bach playing, but it is important, I think, to maintain a natural flow in this sublime material. This is probably a cavil on my part, or perhaps I am spoiled by the wealth of wonderful Bach keyboard performances that have piled up over the years, such as those by Dinu Lipatti, whose rendition of the Partita No. 1 proceeds like a series of lilting Irish folk songs. So Chen enters a field rife with great artistry, but of course, Bach is never perfected, but only encountered, and Chen’s way with the partitas is, on the whole, quite winning.
This label is new to me, but I am impressed by the presentation, and the excellent sound—not too close, not too distant. The original German-language notes could have been translated a bit more carefully, avoiding the smattering of misspellings. Hardly a deal breaker when the music is so beautiful.
FANFARE: Peter Burwasser
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