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Purist, Pristine Bach on the Piano From Kimiko Ishizaka

Bach on the piano has always been a bit transgressive since the instrument didn’t exist while the composer was alive. How radical is pianist Kimiko Ishizaka‘s recording of Book One of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, streaming at Spotify? It’s not. This is one for the purists, who prefer steady tempos and dynamics over Romantic rhythmic devices, with the exception of ornaments and maybe the occasional decisive turnaround. There’s a lot to be said for this approach. If you’ve played Bach, there are usually so many interesting things happening melodically and architecturally that falling back on conventions which the composer most likely never employed, at least in this repertoire, ends up cluttering the music.

Following Bach’s sequence, Ishizaka opens with a genuinely stark, completely uninflected take of the famous C Major Prelude, contrasting with the icepick march of its minor-key counterpart. Both are ridiculously fun to barrel through at peak velocity with the pedal down: then again, that would be really transgressive, and that’s not where Ishizaka is going with this. She doesn’t pedal anything.

So rather than a lilt, we get steady, solemn forward motion with the C Minor Fugue. Plaintiveness resounds quietly in C# Minor and a bit more forcefully in F# minor, compared to the cheery bubbles of the D Major Prelude. We discover a Buxtehudian wariness in D Minor, and that the Eb Prelude is really a fugue. Listen closely and you’ll hear proto-Chopin in the Bb and Eb Minor Preludes and a bit of a joyous ode a half-step above that one.

The sheer catchiness of the E Minor Fugue may take you by surprise; Ishizaka’s care to hold those dotted quarter notes and let the eighth notes flit away in the F Minor Prelude is a rare insight. A country dance percolates to the surface of the G Major Fugue, while she really takes her time and lets the spareness of the G Minor Prelude really come to the forefront. She gives a regal strut to the G# Minor Fugue and finally closes with of a steady journey from a hauntingly sparse quality to understated otherworldliness in the B Minor Fugue.

There’s a single interlude where Ishizaka pushes the beat and stumbles a little – if you hear the whole record, you’ll notice. What she’s latched onto there (and elsewhere, with good success) is the internal swing that permeates so much of Bach’s work. But with this one particular piece’s clustering motives, keeping them fluid without going against the rhythm is very tricky.

September 2, 2018 - Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , ,

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