BACH: Complete Solo Keyboard Concertos” – BACH-VIVALDI: Two Concertos – Julia Zilberquit, piano/ Moscow Virtuosi/ Saulius Sondeckis – Warner Classics 2564 63686-9, (2 CDs) 73:00, 71:25 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

Bach took the model of the solo concerto from Antonio Vivaldi, arranging various string and wind concertos for his own use at Weimar between 1708-1717.  Some scholars speculate that these arrangements date later, c. 1730. Bach employs the three-movement structure favored by the Italians but made peculiarly his own, especially in that Bach liberated the harpsichord from its role as a continuo instrument  to become a dynamic and coloristic companion of the full tutti. The polyphonic texture Bach employs seems to fulfill the keyboard’s potential for expressive and architectural functions.

Zilberquit opens with Bach’s arrangement of Vivaldi’s Concerto Grosso in D Minor for 2 Violins and Cello and Orchestra, RV 565, set for organ solo by Bach as BWV 593. In her own transcription for modern piano (1999), Zilberquit allows the four-voice fugue ample dynamic range without sacrificing the balance between piano and string orchestra. The slow movement (Large e spiccato) becomes an affecting aria for the keyboard.  The keyboard serves as both solo and continuo in the energetic last movement, whose repeated half-step figures assume a mesmeric effect that does not lack for noble, bravura display.

The survey (rec. 2001) of the Bach Klavier Concertos continues with the dramatic D Minor Concerto, BWV 1052, here performed more for lithe grace and suave finesse than for its bold, declamatory lines and percussive power, a la Glenn Gould or Sviatoslav Richter.  Zilberquit’s opening Allegro tempo remains moderate, not breakneck, but the figures bespeak mobile and plastic facility. The flow of the music evolves naturally to its brilliant cadenza, rivaled only by its equivalent in the Fifth Brandenburg Concerto. The tragic slow movement (Adagio) projects an inner concentration reminiscent of what Edwin Fischer could bring to this haunted music. Again, a moderate version of Allegro casts the last movement less as a hectic moto perpetuo than as energetic and passionate whose dancing figures seem solemn and earth-bound.

Clarity and jubilant transparency of effect mark the E Major Concerto, BWV 1053; and here, I must confess the Glenn Gould collaboration with Vladimir Golschmann remains my preference. Likely taken from cantata sources, the melodies summon woodwind – especially oboe – sounds. I find Zilberquit more “precious” and “polite” than frenetically exuberant, as is Gould’s wont. The second movement Bach indicates as an intimate Siciliano, and it certainly suits Zilberquit’s essentially lyric, salon style.  The Concerto in D Major, BWV 1054 transcribes the boldly extroverted E Major Violin Concerto into an effective keyboard vehicle. The outer movements like to wander between major and minor episodes, culminating in the first movement in a cadenza that sounds like an organ transcription. The Adagio (e sempre piano) provides another arioso moment for Zilberquit’s demure unmannered style, rife with authentic affection for this music. The joyful final Allegro retains its vitality and dash, confident in Zilberquit’s measured dance steps.

The A Major Concerto, BWV 1055 literally gushes forth in a flurry of brilliant filigree, a generous elan’s permeating Zilberquit’s rendition. Conductor Sondeckis provides evidence of his dynamic taste in the Larghetto, which demands that the orchestra maintain a steady melodic line in tandem with Zilberquit’s keyboard. The final Allegro (ma no tanto) exploits metric shifts that challenge the participants to remain together, while Zilberquit’s wry trills and fleet turns compel our admiration. The exquisitely wrought F Minor Concerto, BWV 1056 seems to sing in violin or oboe phrases, and once more Edwin Fischer reigns here, although a performance with Grant Johannesen in Atlanta haunts my memories. Zilberquit plays a devotional Largo, a singing movement set as a pastoral. A chaste beauty marks the last movement, linear and expressive at every turn. For the F Major Concerto, BWV 1057, Zilberquit has duo flute support from Marina Federova and Ilya Lebedev, given the work’s transposing of the Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G as a concerto. The colors prove distinctly bright, especially when the music moves to the expressive sarabande (Andante) second movement, which finds its processional source in Spanish music. The textural layering of the last movement, Allegro assai, projects a satisfying mix of colors, with Zilberquit’s obviously relishing her deft interchanges with the two flutes.

The Concerto in G Minor, BWV 1058 sets Bach’s A Minor Violin Concerto for keyboard treatment, rather a versatile display piece. The Andante asks Zilberquit to make subtle dynamic shifts, piano and pianissimo. The last movement sets Zilberquit to performing alternations of sixteenths and thirty-second notes in expansive periods: the aplomb with which she carries out her digital feats attests to a superior, tasteful performer. Zilberquit concludes with her own transposition of Vivaldi-Bach, the Concerto in A Minor, BWV 596 from a Vivaldi string concerto which Bach set for organ.  Pungent bass lines combine with Vivaldi’s Lombardic rhythm to create an effective, impulsive Allegro opening movement. Zilberquit adds embellishments ad libitum to the darkly affecting Larghetto e spiritoso. The last movement, taken from a duet for violins, achieves an elastic sparkling intensity, punctuated by arioso moments, the whole entirely persuasive that the Bach style flows – albeit in Romantic terms – through Zilberquit’s Slavic blood.

—Gary Lemco