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The Art of Bach / Anderson & Roe

Release Date: 01/13/2015
Label: Steinway & Sons Catalog #: 30033
Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach Performer:  Greg Anderson ,  Elizabeth Joy Roe ,  Augustin Hadelich Orchestra/Ensemble:  Anderson & Roe Number of Discs: 1
Recorded in: Stereo Length: 1 Hours 14 Mins.

In an instance of programming wizardry, the “exhilarating” (Gramophone) Anderson & Roe Piano Duo has crafted an album showcasing the immense stylistic and expressive variety of Bach’s art. Where else can one find the apex of scholarly composition, The Art of Fugue, featured alongside one of the monuments of sacred music, the St. Matthew Passion? From heartfelt cantatas and virtuosic concertos to feats of contrapuntal aplomb, this versatile compilation sheds new light on Bach's art and ultimately reveals the matchless brilliance of the man, heard through the dynamic interplay of Anderson & Roe.

Album Credits:
Recorded January 23–25, 2014 at the Concert Hall of the Performing Arts Center, SUNY Purchase,
Read more New York.
Produced and Recorded by Steven Epstein
Executive Producers: Eric Feidner, Jon Feidner
Art Direction: Jackie Fugere
Design: Oberlander Group
Pianos: Steinway Model D #590904 (New York), #592115 (Hamburg)
Piano Technician: Li Li Dong
Photos: Lisa-Marie Mazzucco

A variety of transcriptions, serious and light, all executed with the technical precision we expect of a Steinway artist combined with the playfulness we hope for from a piano duo!

--The WSCL Blog

“The most dynamic duo of this generation” (San Francisco Classical Review) offers a unique glimpse into the genius of Bach on their latest album. Spinning out from Bach’s only original works for two harpsichords—the Concerto in C major and a revised version of the Contrapunctus XIII from The Art of Fugue—Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe traverse sacred and secular works, presenting a vibrant portrait of Bach.

-- WFMT (Chicago)

The U.S. branch of the Steinway piano firm has issued a series of piano recordings that is has carefully curated so as to reflect the company's roots in the music scene of a century ago, or a bit more. This gives the label's output a satisfying coherence as well as bringing forth some intriguing individual concepts. This release by the Anderson & Roe piano duo is a representative example that might appeal to those who've had their fill of severe historical-performance approaches to Bach. It wouldn't have been strange in the 19th century to present an evening of Bach's music on two pianos, for that medium was a common one for bringing music of large dimensions into the home or a small community venue. Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe thus capture a slice of the American musical past, but they also expand upon it creatively, which is what brings projects like this to life. They employ the talents of a variety of arrangers, including themselves, and they cover such unexpected items as the St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244, in a suite of their own devising. The result is a program that views the range of Bach's creativity under a different lens from those anybody else has used. As the graphics have it, "Where else can one find the apex of scholarly composition, The Art of Fugue, featured alongside one of the monuments of sacred music, the St. Matthew Passion?" Throw some chorales into the mix, and there will be an idea of the considerable appeal of this release, recorded at the ideally sized Concert Hall of the Performing Arts Center, Purchase College, the State University of New York.

-- AllMusic Guide

For their third Steinway & Sons release, the Anderson & Roe Piano Duo dedicate their uncanny ensemble prowess and canny programme-building to JS Bach. The eloquent reserve of Kurtág's so-called E flat Sonatina leads into the C major Concerto for two keyboards (sans orchestra), which stands out for the duo's gorgeously calibrated legato slow movement, plus relaxed propulsion and playful conversational ease in the fugal finale. While the idea of five St Matthew Passion numbers arranged into a two-piano suite is tantamount to box-office poison, it actually works. What is more, the duo's restraint and taste reveal how the music's expressive poignancy stands up without sung texts. Perhaps more varied phrasings would have brought out more of the Art of Fugue Contrapunctus IX's vivacity but the pianists' double-dotting in Bach's two keyboard arrangement of the three-voice mirror fugue allows the music to dance off the page. Subtle dissonant inflections and feathery staccato articulation distinguish a selection of Canons based on the Goldberg Variations' ground. A specially arranged aria from Cantata No 127 (with the excellent violin soloist Augustin Hadelich as special guest) gently wanders into Romantic pianism's registral extremes. The duo link the outer movements of the Bach/Reger Third Brandenburg Concerto (what a tempo for the final Allegro!) with a cadenza that liberally quotes from the Chromatic Fantasy's arpeggiated chord sequence. And why not? After all, Bach borrowed - indeed, stole - from himself all the time. Certainly he would have embraced Anderson & Roe's ingenuity and musicianship.

-- Jed Distler, Gramophone

"On The Art of Bach, the dynamic interplay of pianists Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe lends a tantalizing new dimension to J.S. Bach’s unmatched counterpoint on this expansive portrait of classical music’s most omnipotent figure. During this excellent recording, the duo present original and reimagined versions of his music while reframing it in a modern context.Overall, The Art of Bach offers listeners a new way of hearing Bach's works on piano from one of today's most exciting duos."

-- Paula Edelstein, LA Music Examiner

"This contemplative, refreshing album from Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe, partners since 2002, has—unusually—several transcriptions of sacred pieces. “God’s Time is the Best Time” makes for a tender prelude to the bright and cheerful Concerto in C for two keyboards. Some of the phrasing in its first movement is, I think, meant to sound impetuous, but it often comes across a little abrupt, especially in contrast to the mellifluous slow movement. In the nimble finale, one of the duo’s best characteristics is on display, the ability to bring clarity of line to textures that could easily sound cluttered. The homophonic writing in pieces like St. Matthew’s Passion can be even denser, and the pianists outdo themselves in illuminating the music’s salient points. These five movements are sublime... Max Reger’s transcription of the Third Brandenburg Concerto is a glittering, fantastic ending to this gorgeous-sounding release."

-- The Absolute Sound

All the Bach music on a new CD featuring duo-pianists Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe is wonderful, but because of the way the disc is set up and the way the performances are managed, this too is a recording primarily for fans of the performers rather than for Bach lovers. The basic issue is whether or not it works to play Bach in a highly emotional way on modern pianos. This may be an unresolvable philosophical argument between entrenched positions, but it is one that matters more to this CD than to many others involving Bach on the piano, because Anderson and Roe so clearly want the modern piano’s expressive and emotive abilities to be in the forefront of listeners’ minds. The result is indeed an emotionally involving experience, but it is not an emotionally involving Bach experience—even though Bach provides the basic sonic canvas on which the performers paint their evocative readings. Anderson and Roe themselves made two of the arrangements here: Die Seele ruht in Jesu Händen from the cantata BWV 127, in which they are joined by violinist Augustin Hadelich for a particularly warm performance; and a suite from the St. Matthew Passion, which for all its cleverness is about as far from the effect of that grand work as it is possible to be. The two-piano version of the C major dual-harpsichord concerto BWV 1061 fares somewhat better, since the performers restrain their emotionalism to a degree. But their playing of Max Reger’s four-hand version of Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 is simply odd, especially in the improvised middle movement—which Anderson and Roe seem to regard, quixotically, as being somehow the most important part of the work. The reality is that enjoyment of this disc is tied completely to a listener’s interest in the players. Their warmth serves Mary Howe’s version of Sheep May Safely Graze from the cantata BWV 208 well, but their handling of Contrapunctus IX, XIIIA and XIIIB from The Art of Fugue is much less appealing, since they actually play down the contrapuntal elements that are crucial to the music’s structure. The two remaining works on the disc are short ones: Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit, BWV 106, and 5 Canons on the Goldberg Ground. Both in these pieces and in the more-extended ones, Anderson and Roe are at pains to make the music emotionally trenchant—meditative here, piquant there, flighty in one place, intricate in another. Bach’s music can shine through this sort of treatment, just as it can emerge with beauty and subtlety no matter on what instrument or instruments it may be played. But there is a point at which it ceases to be “Bachian” and becomes more a reflection of the players than an interpretation of (or even a tribute to) the composer. That is the point at which this Anderson and Roe disc lies. It is by no means “bad” in any meaningful way, and the playing itself is sure-handed throughout and often quite enjoyable. But the relentless focus on the performers rather than on what they are playing turns this into a specialty “fan” item rather than a recording to be considered for the sake of the music on it.


Music lexicographer Theodore Baker, in his biographical dictionary of musicians, labeled J.S. Bach as the “supreme arbiter and lawgiver of music.” And while Bach may have blanched had he read such a description, there is absolute power to much of his music.

From the exuberance of a Brandenburg Concerto, the rigor of a prelude and fugue or the heart-wrenching pathos of his Passion settings, there’s an architectural sturdiness to Bach that can accommodate almost any interpretation.

That is something the piano duo Anderson & Roe understand intuitively in their new album The Art of Bach, which includes their own arrangements for two pianos of selections from the St. Matthew Passion.

In Bach’s original, the aria “Erbarme Dich” (Have Mercy) is for alto and a mellifluous violin that rises from the orchestra to assuage bitter tears. It’s suffering swaddled in voluptuous melody. There’s no way it should translate to just a pair of pianos. Yet it does. A heartbeat throbs in the low register and tears drop in high arpeggios while the drama intensifies.

Chalk it up to Bach’s built-to-last construction and two pianists—Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe—who are keenly attuned to its greatness.

-- National Public Radio

This is a very well programmed collection of Bach for two pianists at both one and two pianos. We get a combination of original works for two keyboards and a wide range of transcriptions by Kurtag, Reger, and Howe as well as Anderson and Roe themselves. Titled The Art of Bach the program was planned to show the immense stylistic and expressive variety of Bach’s art. I was fortunate to hear the kick-off concert for this release in New York last February. Most of these selections were performed, each paired with a piece from their previous Mozart disc, An Amadeus Affair which was one of my best of the year recordings (Steinway 30022, May/June 2014). Their newest music video was given its world premiere right after intermission (Bach Contrapunctus). I can now attest that this talented duo is as good in person as on records—maybe better. Their engaging individual personalities come through in their dialog with the audience. Their sometimes over-the-top music videos, widely viewed on the internet, are nicely balanced in concert by their real personas, and of course it is a pleasure to witness the piano playing and ensemble.

This has a more toned-down program than their earlier releases. Their dynamic range is in good Baroque taste—no thunderous climaxes or barely audible whispers. The flashy, overtly virtuosic pieces from before, whether their own arrangements or others, are here replaced by more subtle, even reverent pieces. This is not to say that their Brandenburg Concerto 3, in Reger’s piano duet arrangement, lacks any of the brilliance and vigor we associate with this well-known masterpiece. The difficulties of bringing this work off at quick tempos (especially the finale) on one keyboard require an exceptional duo. Their improvisatory middle movement is tasteful and played very romantically.

The Contrapunctus IX, XIIIa and b (rectus and inversus) from The Art of Fugue are fourvoice marvels of counterpoint that have no instrumental indications. Using four talented hands at two pianos is as valid as, for instance, a string quartet. Anderson and Roe have a light, clean approach; and these are so clearly and musically played that one can revel in the music without paying much attention to the compositional virtuosity of Bach, or do the reverse and admire each voice’s construction and relationship to the whole.

The Concerto for Two Harpsichords is an original work for two keyboards that had a string accompaniment added to the outer movements at a later date, probably not by Bach. It is one of only two concertos that originated as keyboard works. It gets a zesty performance here with an appropriately cantabile middle movement. Four of the Canons from the Goldberg Ground are a rarity and make for a short, enjoyable new group of pieces exploring a familiar sequence of notes. They are based on the first eight notes of the bass line of the Goldberg Variations.

The rest of the music here is arrangements. Mary Howe (1882–1964) was an American composer and pianist who made a marvelous two-piano arrangement of ‘Sheep May Safely Graze’. Gyorgy Kurtag (b.1926) arranged ‘Gottes Zeit ist die Allerbeste Zeit’, the opening movement of Cantata 106, for piano duet to play with his wife. The hands overlap, creating a visual image of a cross. Anderson and Roe arranged another cantata movement (from 127), ‘Die Seele Ruht in Jesu Handen’, for two pianos and violin, beautifully played here by Augustin Hadelich. Their big 18-minute Saint Matthew Passion Suite is in five movements. It is a very personal statement by the artists of a work they revere. Both their arrangement and their performance are wonderful. I cannot think of any reason any lover of great music would not enjoy this recording. The production values and booklet notes are on the highest level—which I have come to expect from the Steinway label.

-- American Record Guide

Former Juilliard students, piano-duo Anderson & Roe (estab 2002), turn to the world of J.S. Bach in order to “present a complete portrait” of his work, “to showcase the extraordinary range of his compositional output.” Consequently, diverse opera assume the two-piano medium from chorale-preludes to concertos, from cantatas and solo salon works to the grandest of all the passion-music Bach created. Thus, the program falls into three categories: the secular, the scholarly, and the sacred.

The Bach concert opens with Gottes Zeit ist allerbeste Zeit, arranged by Gyorgy Kurtag as poignant dialogue in which the piano part requires overlapped arms, in order to signify the cross. This decidedly devotional sensibility returns quite soon, in the St. Matthew Passion—Suite, opening with the lament, Erbarme dich, mein Gott, which would naturally begin with a violin obbligato and alto voice. Almost pure harmonic ground, the chorale Wie wunderbarlich ist doch diese Strafe in loving parlando, ensues. Magically transparent, Aus Liebe will mein Heiland sterben, places Jesus upon the cross for love of Mankind. The blood of Christ finds renewal in O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden leads to our own acceptance of the mystical gesture in Mache dich, mein Herze, rein, emergent as a kind of contrapuntal pastoral. Violinist Augustin Hadelich joins Anderson & Roe in their effective arrangement of the tender aria from Cantata 127, “The soul rests in Jesus’ Hands.” The middle section could have easily inspired much of the Mendelssohn sacred tradition in music. The da capo features Handelich in aerial harmonics of glittering piano chords in the upper register.

The Art of Fugue, Bach’s final colossus, extends his creative art backwards into an academic, “learned style” distinctly out of fashion even in his own day. Organist Philip Jordan, in demonstrating a fugue to me, explained the dark hue of the opus in the following terms: “This is God’s beholding our wonderful planet and meditating on exactly what Man has done with it.” Anderson & Roe first address the mighty Contrapunctus IX, a double fugue with an inversion at the twelfth. The dancing capacity of inversion recurs in the next two exercises, which like to maneuver treble and bass lines in mirror-images. Five canons based on the Ground from the Goldberg Theme, BWV 1087 exploit the first eight notes in the bass. The “crux” motif appears in No. 11 inverted, and we wonder if Bach’s notion is to suggest both our rejection of and need for salvation.

The three secular works—Concerto in C for 2 Pianos; Sheep May Safely Graze; Brandenburg Concerto No. 3—each moves with aggressively brilliant contrapuntal energy without having sacrificed Bach’s innately meditative lyricism, as in the Adagio ovvero Largo from the BWV 1061. Sheep May Safely Graze, usually ascribed to the secular “Hunt” Cantata 208, originally served as Tafelmusik for Duke Christian of Saxe-Weissenfels. That the pastoral “shepherd” motif can metaphorically embrace Our Lord obviously appealed to the arranger, pianist Mary Howe in the 1930s. The ever-motorized Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G, originally for string consort, makes a fine bravura toccata for Anderson & Roe in Max Reger’s solo-piano, four hands arrangement. A busy piece, the Reger approach—and he adds an arpeggiated, brief Adagio—has the duo in both synchronized and contrary motions, often variegating their respective touches, all the while maintaining that unique singing line that proves the very essence of the Bach mystique.

The production and engineering by Steven Epstein had my toes tapping and my fingers moving in happy sympathy with our principals.

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