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Best Recordings of 2011 (#2)

Time for a review of classical CDs that were outstanding in 2011. My lists for the previous years: 2010, 2009, (2009 – “Almost”), 2008, (2008 - "Almost") 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004.

# 2 - New Release

J.S. Bach, Original Works & Transcriptions, Evgeni Koroliov, Duo Koroliov, Tacet 192

available at AmazonJ.S.Bach, Original Works & Transcriptions,
E.Koroliov, Duo Koroliov
Tacet 192

Transcriptions in general—and of Bach’s works or by Bach in particular—are a favorite topic of mine, and I collect recordings that suit that topic in a special box. The pile is ever growing; Marimba versions of the Cello Suites and Goldberg variations variously for harp, accordion, or various saxophone conglomerations abound. My favorite release of 2009—the Goldberg Variations in the Rheinberger-Reger arrangement—belonged to the category as well and this year’s Bach-transcription choice with Evgeni Koroliov and his wife continues very neatly in that line: Adaptations and arrangements for piano duo (and solo piano) by romantic composers (Liszt, Prelude & Fugue in A minor BWV 543), by Bach via-performer (the “Organ Mass” a.k.a. Clavierübung III, which are arrangements of chorales for organ performed on the piano), by the performer (Passacaglia for two pianos), and most delightfully of them all: various organ pieces by György Kurtág for two pianos on the audiophile Tacet label.

Taking Bach’s work from the organ to the modern grand piano is perhaps the most ‘natural’ among all the transcriptive steps, despite the fact that they’re based on two as-different-as-can-be ways of producing sound. With all the differences from one organ to another, and considering the piano’s ability to create a great variety of tonal colors (further increased when two pianos are aat work), the piano is really an organ by other means. If the organ is the king of instruments (although I’ve always thought of it, for all its pipes, as more or a resplendent queen or something gender-unspecific), the grand piano is the prince (and workhorse).

Leaving the ‘what’, ‘why’, and ‘how’ of transcribing and transcriptions aside for the time being, this disc is an absolute marvel. The work of the creative agents isn’t in this case the equal of their lowest common denominator (which would still be lofty, given the musicians involved), but achieves something as wonderful as—and just-slightly, wonderfully different than—the Bach original.

The Passacaglia, so dear to my heart, is oft transcribed and very happily so for two pianos, a version where I feel it can achieve its greatness almost more easily than in an average organ performance. Instigated by Busoni (who never made his own transcription of it), Bösendorfer even designed its Imperial Grand Piano to accommodate Bach’s writing for the grand organ sound of the Passacaglia. Koroliov’s idiomatic transcription is one of several two-piano arrangements (most famous of them probably Max Reger’s). Whether it is Koroliov and Ljupka Hadžigeorgieva’s playing or the transcription (or both) that makes the textures sound occasionally leaner than I am used to from the Reger versions is hard to tell; easy to tell is the propulsive-compelling excellence of the performance, though. Ditto the Liszt and Clavierübung III. Koroliov’s Ricercar a 6 from “The Musical Offering” (a transcription-favorite of mine in Webern’s brilliant orchestrated version) is a superb lead-in for the six Kurtág transcriptions that are such things of beauty that they bring metaphorical, sometimes literal, tears to my eyes.

Bach-Kurtág, Sonatina from "Gottes Zeit" BWV 106 (excerpt), Duo Koroliov, Tacet 192

The two and a half minutes of the Sonatina from the Actus Tragicus alone are invaluable, just for the beauty of the piece itself. But if you listen closer, also for how Kurtág teases out the interplay of the voices that, in the original, are made up of two recorders, violas, and da gambas. Elsewhere he emulates overtones by doubling the melody a twelfth above in pppp. Everywhere he exudes musical intelligence and humble passion for the great master’s music.

(Tacet does need better distribution in the US, though, and doesn't like working with German Amazon. The best deal can usually be had on

# 2 – Reissue

W.A. Mozart, The String Quartets, Quatuor Talich, La Dolce Vita 100

available at AmazonW.A.Mozart, Complete String Quartets,
Talich Quartet
La Dolce Vita

The Talich Quartet is one of my favorite string quartets on record and their sets of Mozart’s String Quintets and Mendelssohn’s String Quartets on Calliope atop my personal list in that repertoire. What makes them special is a relaxed musicality with just a hint of old fashioned comfort and genial musicality make up for sound that isn’t the equal of the best modern recordings, and for playing with something less than laser-like precision. Their Mozart String Quartet set includes the whole 'canonic' set of 23 Quartets, starting with K.73f "Lodi", making its way through the "Milan", "Vienna", "Haydn", and "Prussian" Quartets (+ “Hoffmeister” somewhere in there)... but not the early Divertimenti for string quartet – and it’s not far behind the String Quintets in quality Anyone with a hankering for old-world deliciousness will find the set tremendously rewarding… now that it is easily available again, thanks to a new re-issuing label called “La Dolce Volta”

-> Best Recordings of 2011 #1-10


Martin Fritter said...

I see that Koroliov has a recording of Chopin Mazurkas, pieces which contain much of the composer's understanding of counterpoint. Have you heard it?

jfl said...

alas, no.