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A Bouquet Of Bach / Andrew Rangell

Release Date: 02/07/2020
Label: Steinway & Sons Catalog #: 30126
Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach Performer:  Andrew Rangell Number of Discs: 1

The present recording, a continuation of Rangell’s long and loving exploration of Bach, is also something of a counterpart to his 2017 release, A Bouquet of Beethoven.

R E V I E W S:

There are few musical pleasures greater than listening to Bach’s keyboard music played on the modern piano, and there are very few pianistic exponents of that repertoire more consistently impressive than Andrew Rangell. These two releases, [See Bach: English Suites / Andrew Rangell] issued one month apart, offer a scholarly take on one of the monuments of baroque keyboard composition and a more personal compilation of smaller works presented both in their original forms and in transcription. Rangell’s take on the six-part English
Read more Suites is simply magnificent; listen in particular to the delicacy and delight he shows in rendering the second menuet section of suite number 4; this is the kind of thing Rangell was born to do. The Bouquet of Bach collection is a bit quirkier, but every bit as lovely; the two- and three-part inventions nestle among brief selections from some of Bach’s notebooks, Egon Petri transcriptions of cantata arias, and other miscellany. Where some pianists temper what can sometimes feel like rhythmic relentlessness in Bach’s fugal compositions by means of rubato, Rangell does the same with dynamics–tenderly and tastefully executed, but with full artistic confidence. Highly recommended to all libraries.

-- CD Hotlist

Over the course of about 30 years, Andrew Rangell has recorded much of Bach’s harpsichord music, starting with the Goldberg Variations, albeit on a piano. That recording, originally on Dorian, has been reissued by Steinway & Sons in tandem with the other Bach recordings that Rangell made for Dorian. This new disc, however, contains newly recorded material (December 2018, to be exact) and goes by the title A Bouquet of Bach. (If Patricia Routledge’s character in the BBC comedy series Keeping Up Appearances were to record a Bach disc, would she call it “A Bucket of Bach”?)

I have not reviewed any of Rangell’s Bach in Fanfare, although I have done so elsewhere. Before hearing this new CD, I had forgotten how controversial and Gould-like I and others had found it. Rangell turns (or already has turned) 72 this year, and is playing as well as he ever has, despite the hand injury that he sustained in 1991. His basic ideas about Bach seem not to have changed, and he puts theory into practice with sparkle in this well-devised program, which also includes three of Egon Petri’s Bach transcriptions.

Bach composed his inventions (a.k.a. Two-Part Inventions) and sinfonias (Three-Part Inventions) for his pupils not just to teach them how to play contrapuntal material with clarity, but also “to achieve a cantabile style of playing, and thereby to acquire a strong foretaste of composition.” In other words, it seems that Bach wanted the material to be didactic, but also pleasing—for both the performer and his or her audience. Indeed, in his booklet note, Rangell mentions “the sheer poetic content and character of each small adventure.” Consequently, here, as in his earlier Bach recordings, Rangell gives the German master’s music an expressiveness so emphatic that it is almost Romantic. The Sinfonia No. 9, for example, sounds like the documentation of a small but palpable tragedy—maybe the death of a beloved parakeet. (Sometimes it’s the little things that hurt the most.) I, like many reluctant young pianists, struggled my way through the Invention No. 8, and it is good and bittersweet to hear Rangell rattle it off with more imagination than I brought to it! There are places, however, where the left hand seems overly prominent, and also where showy micro-pauses are inserted between phrases for no other reason, perhaps, than to throw off our cruise control as listeners. As I alluded to above, Rangell can be mannered in a way that suggests Glenn Gould, although I think Gould often is mannered to the point of being unlistenable (there, I said it, stone me), whereas Rangell’s mannerisms are interesting, and not usually too distracting.

Like Gould, Rangell’s treatment of the theme in the Aria variata is not as simple as it could be—it sounds like he is rolling some of the chords, for example—and I think that spoils some of the surprise of what follows it. Also, he does not include repeats in the variations. He finishes the work in eight minutes; many pianists require about 15. Nevertheless, the Aria variata (alla maniera italiana), to give it its full name, does not get enough love from pianists, so I am glad that Rangell included it here. He plays the three Petri arrangements with appropriate artistic license; one can enjoy these without fretting over whether Rangell is playing them too subjectively. I hadn’t previously heard Petri’s “free arrangement” of three minuets from the notebook for Wilhelm Friedemann Bach—too bad, because it is delightful.

Although I do not agree with everything on this CD—why should I?—I find that I cannot dislike it. The “bouquet” analogy is appropriate: when one receives a bouquet of assorted blooms, of course some will be more appealing than others, depending on the tastes of the recipient.

-- Raymond Tuttle, Fanfare

Fresh from the odd and sometimes satisfying ""Bach 4 Kids"" release, Mr Rangell returns with a new Bach collection. Some of the performances from that disc reappear here: the little Prelude in D minor, the Invention in F, and the Sinfonias in D minor and A minor. But most are new. We have all of the Inventions and Sinfonias, a short chorale prelude on 'Jesu, Meine Freude' from Friedemann's notebook, the early Aria Variata, and three arrangements by Egon Petri: Menuett (derived from minuets in the WF Bach notebook), 'Vor Deinen Thron' (the chorale prelude offered as a bonus to the first print of The Art of Fugue), and 'Sheep May Safely Graze'.

I find Rangell's performance of the transcriptions and chorale prelude particularly enchanting. The latter is a great example of an ornamented chorale prelude with a very simple accompaniment and should be played more often. 'Sheep May Safely Graze' is a very effective transcription that's been played many times—Rangell's performance capitalizes on the work's sweetness and abundant lyricism. His beautiful tone is also particularly welcome for these pieces.

The readings of the Inventions and Sinfonias are charming and (sorry) inventive— there's a lot of variety in articulation (for instance, in the Invention in C), the appropriate level of virtuosity (Invention in A, Sinfonia in B minor). Sometimes I can't agree much with the interpretations (the too–perky Invention in B–flat, the sometimes insouciant Sinfonia in E–flat, the too–hectic Invention in E minor), but I do admire him for not treating these works as somewhat simple–minded children's pieces (as too many other artists do). I also am thrilled with Steinway's warm but vibrant sound.

-- Rob Haskins, American Record Guide

 "...Rangell maintains the same approach in a single-CD recital called “A Bouquet of Bach” that features all the Inventions and Sinfonias and, equally significantly in terms of Rangell’s approach to Bach, three transcriptions by pianist Egon Petri (1881-1962) that very much partake of 19th-century sensibilities even though they were composed in the 20th. Petri’s arrangements of Sheep May Safely Graze, I Step Before Thy Throne, and a set of three minuets that Petri combined into a single piece, all predate the historical-practices movement and, accordingly, have warmth and fullness that are quite pianistic and not much in keeping with the clarity and linearity of the original material. Rangell’s performances of these pieces are certainly not as full-blown Romantic as Petri’s own, but there is a clear line of descent from the earlier pianist to the younger one, with Rangell seeming quite comfortable indeed in presenting Bach in the guise of a much later era – and using Petri’s transcriptions to display the emotional rather than structural underpinnings of Bach’s work. The other music on this CD gets somewhat less full-blooded treatment but partakes of similar sensibilities. In Aria Variata, for example, the fast repeat notes are challenging on the piano and sound quite different from the way they do on the harpsichord; here, Rangell focuses more on combining and blending the two hands than on keeping them separate and distinct. Jesu meine Freude is a lovely and moving work whose emotional core Rangell uses the piano to emphasize. The Little Prelude in D minor, in contrast, is really a trifle, just a minute long, and Rangell makes it into a kind of “appetite cleanser” amid the more-substantive material. Most of the Inventions and Sinfonias are also quite short, and Rangell uses the piano’s sonority to distinguish them in ways that go beyond what Bach built into these brief, beautifully balanced bits of polyphony. Rangell’s playing is not exactly a throwback to that of Petri’s time and earlier – it is, rather, a reinterpretation for the 21st century of the thinking that went into approaches to Bach that sought to “update” his music on the grounds that it sounds good on modern instruments and would have been written for the piano if Bach had only had one available. In reality, that argument is specious: Bach would have written for the piano, no doubt, but he would have written very different music for it, not what he wrote for the far greater linear clarity of the harpsichord. And Rangell does not make any such argument overtly: his performances themselves constitute an assertion that playing Bach keyboard music on piano, and utilizing the modern instrument’s capabilities in ways that Bach never intended, can be satisfying in ways that are different from those offered by the original instrumentation – not better, certainly, but different. Rangell’s fine performances are a bit of an anomaly now that we do know so much more about what Bach’s music was supposed to sound like. But they certainly have pleasures of their own, and audiences that especially enjoy the sound and emotive capabilities of the modern piano will find them highly satisfying."

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