Mstation Classical Reviews

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Fri, 29 Apr 2005

Bax, Baroque

Baroque Reflections
Alessio Bax - Piano

Bach trans. Busoni	Toccata and Fugue in D minor BWV565
A. Marcello arr. Bach	Concerto in D minor BWV974
Bach trans Siloti	Prelude in B minor BWV855
Bach trans Hess	Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring BWV147
Gluck arr Sgambati	Melodie from Orfeo ed Euridice
Liszt			Sarabande and Chaconne from Handel's Almire
Rachmaninov		Suite from the Partita in E BWV1006 by Bach
Rachmaninov		Variations on a theme of Corelli Op.42

Recorded in The Maltings, Snape, England in May 2004
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 61695-2

Alessio Bax came to prominence by winning the Leeds International Piano competition in 2000 and seems to have been having a busy career ever since. This is his first recording for Warner Classics, although not his first CD by any means, having previously recorded the Brahms first and Beethoven third piano concerti and two piano works by Ligeti, amongst other things. Choosing a recital programme of baroque transcriptions and arrangements may seem a somewhat daring thing for a young virtuoso in his first recital disc for a major label and, indeed, the result is a bit of a curate's egg; parts of it are indeed excellent - the limpid phrasing and beautifully controlled sound of the slow movement of the Marcello/Bach concerto for example. At other times, young man's exuberance rather takes over - as in the peculiar stabbing gestures in the opening of the first movement of that same concerto or the overblown attempt at organ-esque levels of fortissimo in the D minor toccata and fugue.

Most of the repertoire here is fairly standard stuff for this type of programme, some of it better than others. The Busoni transcription of the D minor toccata and fugue mentioned above must fall into the latter category. Compared to Bach's Organ original or Stokowski's mighty orchestration the piano version struggles to maintain the long lines and held chordal structures and always produces a less-than-satisfying result, no matter how virtuosic the performer. In this case it was an unfortunate choice for the opening track. Similarly, one can live without Myra Hess's essentially bland transcription of Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring, a work which relies entirely on the variation of timbre between the melody and its accompaniment, as Bach so often did in his chorale preludes, or in the chorale elaborations in the cantatas. The uniform timbre of the piano does not suit.

Elsewhere there are many moments to enjoy. Bax has a reputation as a 'young virtuoso' but is at his best in this disc when exhibiting the delicate side of his playing. The slow movement of the Marcello concerto mentioned above is one such example, and he keeps this delicacy in a beautifully controlled fast third movement too. The big Liszt and Rachmaninov works at the end of the disc (much more compositions based on baroque models than just transcriptions) are most successful. The Liszt Sarabande and Chaconne based on Handel is a less often heard work, but none the worse for it. Liszt's obvious admiration for Handel is apparent, and his command of piano writing shines through all the time. Again, the contrast between Bax's rather over heavy forte and his superb pianissimo sound is apparent in the exchanges of the opening. All of the virtuoso passages are carried off with aplomb and the recorded sound is generally good, although it does favour the quieter moments.

This is an interesting disc with much to enjoy, if you don't mind the occasional thump and bang and can get over the rather pretentious cover photo of Alessio in "pretty-boy" format in a corn field. Why a corn field? I don't know either. (c) 2005 Peter Wells

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