Notes and Editorial Reviews
BACH TO THE FUTURE
Ashley Wass (pn);
Ron Abramski (pn)
ORCHID 100033 (79:06)
Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir
“Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit.” Chorale Prelude,
Fantasia nach J. S. Bach.
One of the joys of owning recordings is the option of listening to whatever music one wishes to at the time, creating one’s own playlist for that specific day’s needs. One of the downfalls of that approach is often listening to the same old music again and again, or rather never listening to that same old music in different contexts—hence the joy of concert-going, when an artist would carefully craft together a program of works which he or she thought balanced each other out, revealing new and interesting facets of each composition. Though it doesn’t often happen that recordings mimic the concert—perhaps it is easier for the record company and more appealing to the “completist” collector who wants to own it all—when it does it often turns out to be a fabulous musical experience.
Taking Bach as a common link, Ashley Wass, the brilliant British pianist, winner of the London International Piano Competition and prizewinner at the Leeds Piano Competition, has created a program highlighting the similar ways in which that composer helped to continually shape music over the course of the next two centuries. Tellingly, the only original Bach we get here is in transcription (Busoni for piano solo and Kurtág for piano duo). While one may sometimes complain about this work or that work not being their ideal performance of a particular composition, what is most important to remember here is that Wass is striving for unity of design. One may, for example, complain that Berg’s Piano Sonata is a bit too rhythmically driven, a bit too percussive, even too manic, yet juxtaposed between the calm of the opening Bach-Kurtág and the serenity of the first of the Beethoven bagatelles, Wass’s reading foreshadows all of the eccentricities that are yet to occur later in op. 126. Here he is highlighting commonalities not only between Bach and Berg, and Bach and Beethoven, but between Beethoven and Berg—and when one listens to it in this way, it works. Intriguingly, Bach-Busoni makes way for pure Busoni, but here using themes from Bach, with Busoni’s harmonic language creating something almost hypnotic in effect. Wass easily handles the difficulties in this music, perfectly setting the mood and paving the way for what he calls his “party piece,” Samuel Barber’s monumental Piano Sonata, a piece which could be as manic and percussive as anything written in the 20th century. It is a whirlwind
tour de force
in Wass’s hands; but it is more than that as well. Parts of the opening movement seem to feed off the mysterious, quasi-mystical aspects just heard a few moments before in the Busoni. Once again, Bach is felt, but only peripherally; the deeper connection is between the Barber and the Busoni. Kurtág’s piano duo transcription of Bach’s
Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit
rounds out the recital, bringing us back to the sound world which started it all: Bach transformed and re-imagined.
Recorded in spectacular sound, Wass has intelligently written his own program notes—revealing all of the connections between himself and the pieces performed, his discoveries of them, personal stories as to their significance in his life, and other oddities which can be found in the pieces. (Who knew that the Batman theme was always sitting right there in the left hand of Beethoven’s Bagatelle, op. 126/2?) Beyond all else, Wass shows himself here to be a secure technician, easily handling all of the virtuosic challenges in this music, and a probing and intelligent musician, one who has long thought over this music and has penetrated its inner secrets, and one who relishes in making these pieces sound ever fresh, ever new, ever exciting. It is not often we get a musician of this caliber. One should grab this while one can. After having reviewed this disc, I recommend that one also snatch up his other recordings—much of it of British piano music. I know that I did.
FANFARE: Scott Noriega