BACH: Piano Transcriptions by Walter Rummel – Jonathan Plowright, piano – Hyperion

by | Aug 21, 2006 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

BACH: Piano Transcriptions by Walter Rummel – Jonathan Plowright, piano – Hyperion CDA 67481/2 (2 CDs), 64:29; 69:09 (Distrib. Harmonia mundi) ***:

Walter Rummel ((1887-1953), born in Berlin, is remembered through a few select recordings as an acolyte of Leopold Godowsky and Hugo Kaun, a solid pianist who often played with Bauer, Gabrilowitsch, Henry Wood, Weingartner, Defauw, Casals, and Mengelberg. Between 1922 and 1938 Rummel transcribed or “adapted” some 25 chorale preludes and cantata-arias of Bach, the latter of which demanded his reducing as many as eight musical lines into two or three-part harmony. The scorings can be quite thick, rife with chords of four or five notes in each hand. Octave doubling, percussive block chords, bell-like sonorities, flutter pedal, and pedaled staccatos make up part of Rummel’s arsenal of special effects. Highly devotional, Rummel’s settings clearly complement the work Ferruccio Busoni and Franz Liszt had accomplished in both chorale settings and transcriptions from the mighty organ oeuvre. Occasionally, they strike a particularly lustrous or clarion note, as in his transcription of Wir eilen mit schwagchen, doch emsigen Schritten from Cantata 78, which has more than a passing similarity to Schubert’s D Major Marche militaire. Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen, the Sinfonia from Cantata 12, resonates with Romantic luster and suspensions. The influence of Bach’s own BWV 903 Chromatic Fantasy is obvious, even if the result sounds like Franck. I found Plowright’s percussive style in Ach, wie nichtig, ach wie fluechtig from Cantata 26 too pulverizing for my taste. Just as meaty-handed is O Gott, du frommer Gott! from Cantata No. 94, although it reminds me of the opening to the B-flat Partita. On the other hand, the lightness in his approach to the aria from Cantata 68 suggests that Plowright could be deft in pieces like the Bach Partitas and English Suites.

Rather than review every cut, I prefer to recall a few special items, like Das hab‚ich je und Liebe beruecken from Cantata 49, a combination of chorale and brilliant toccata, more than reminiscent of the Toccata, Adagio and Fugue, BWV 564 in the Busoni arrangement. The setting of Von Himmel hoch, da komm‚ ich her, BWV 248 calls upon the piano’s highest register, achieving a delicacy very different from Stokowski’s orchestral version. Elegant, gavotte-like effects in the outer sections of Zu Tanze, zu Sprunge, BWV 201. The setting for Cantata 146, Wir muessen durch viel Truebsal is a miniature of the Klavier Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, rife with double octaves and terraced dynamics. A translucent, legato glow emanates from Esurientes implicit bonis from the Magnificat, BWV 243. A nice touch is Lass dich nimmer von der Liebe beruecken, the cembalom part from Cantata 203, now in bravura style. Majesterial sonorities for Gelobet sei mein Gott, BWV 129, bells worthy of Easter Sunday. Finally, Rummel’s most hard-won transcription, Die Seee ruht in Jesu Haenden from Cantata 130, here a study in sustained tones and pedaled arpeggiation. Almost 12 minutes long, the piece becomes a massive tonepoem, an assertion of faith which belies the sometimes over-insistent urgings of Mr. Plowright. In moderate doses, this ambitious set can prove most appealing to the Bach connoisseur.

— Gary Lemco

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