Bach katsaris Apex0927408192

Déjà Review: this review was first published in December 2001 and the recording is still available.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Keyboard Concerto No. 1 in D minor, BWV 1052
Keyboard Concerto No. 3 in D major, BWV 1054
Keyboard Concerto No. 5 in F minor, BWV 1056
Keyboard Concerto No. 6 in F major, BWV 1057
Cyprien Katsaris (piano)
Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra/János Rolla
rec. 1986
Apex (Warner) 0927 408192 [63]

During the 1730s Bach became involved in the activities of the Collegium Musicum in Leipzig, which gave him the opportunity to perform and compose concert music for the first time in some ten years. One result, perhaps the most important, was his series of keyboard concertos.

Bach’s aim in his keyboard concertos was to give priority to his own prowess as a harpsichordist, and in taking adapting existing compositions (generally, though not always, his own) he sought to modify the solo line to the needs of the new conditions, while allowing the orchestral accompaniment to remain as close as possible to the original. In all, it seems that he wrote fourteen concertos for one, two, three or four harpsichords, and of these only one, the C major Concerto for two harpsichords, BWV1061, was a new composition. The remainder were originally concertos for other solo instruments, most commonly the violin, written during 1717-23, the years of Bach’s previous appointment as kapellmeister to Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen.

This collection performed by the pianist Cyprien Katsaris gathers some splendid examples from this repertoire. Two of these pieces will be familiar to listeners who know the E major Violin Concerto (here the D major Concerto, BWV 1054) and the Fourth Brandenburg Concerto (here the F major Concerto, BWV 1057). There is no problem about any of this. Like so many composers, and rather more than most, Bach was the consummate professional, and he used is own stock of material to bring fresh opportunities as and when required. And the word ‘fresh’ applies to these sparkling performances. For those who wonder about playing Bach on the piano rather than the harpsichord, this disc shows just how well the music can sound. The recorded balances are just right, so too the tempi and phrasing. Some purists may object, but the music works supremely well in these versions.

While Katsaris is the undoubted star of the show, leading with lively virtuoso playing, the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra (Budapest) play with equal urgency and vitality, skilfully directed by János Rolla. The vivid sound does them justice too. The only disappointment here is the rather slender accompanying booklet, not as bad as some but still short on information and badly designed. However, these are marvellous performances of marvellous music.

Terry Barfoot

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