"Evan Shinners: @BACH" = Partita No. 1; 2 Toccatas; French Suite 5; Keyboard Concerto in d minor – New Cull Records

by | Dec 29, 2011 | Classical CD Reviews

“Evan Shinners: @BACH” = Partita No. 1 in B-flat Major, BWV 825; Toccata in E Minor, BWV 914; Toccata in C Minor, BWV 911; French Suite No. 5 in G Major, BWV 816; Klavier Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, BWV 1052 – SUITS! with Chamber Ens./ Evan Shimmers, piano & conductor – New Cull Records, 66:25 ****:
When I first gazed upon the cover art and read the New York hype on Evan Shinners, I thought this disc would be a goof, a gimmick, a parody or strictly “jazzy” reduction of Bach originals. I was wrong. Touted as the “new Glenn Gould” of Bach, the Juilliard-trained Shinners has his own ideas, and they seem to compel his devoted audience to listen to what he plays. In conjunction with his performances at MoMA, Evan Shinners has also been running a successful crowd-funding campaign on RocketHub in order to raise funds for the recording and release of this live Bach performance album, titled @bach. This disc was recorded live in February and April 2010, at Juilliard and Rockefeller Center, respectively.
This kid has technique to burn, and he doesn’t mind burning it. Shinners prefaces each of his selections with a brief spoken introduction, and his technique permits his improvisations a musical and theatrical fascination. His playing is not so pointillistic as Gould’s, but he injects passing and grace notes into the Bach filigree ad libitum, and he sparkles the accents in the manner of Chico Marx. Shinners’ E Minor Toccata, for which I have long favored the likes of Casadesus, Haskil, and Istomin, moves slickly and buoyantly, invested with runs and dynamic adjustments according to his whim. Bach would approve. The affect Shinners projects is so virtuosic, almost for its own sake, that some of the emotional girth in Bach seems sacrificed. He provides an ad hoc musical segue to the Toccata in C Minor, whose bass line clearly resounds with Shinners’ notion of organ-sonority. But Shinners’ leggierissimo is no less effective, and he can move through fast passages like the eternal hot knife in butter. If Busoni were drunk, he might embrace this kid.
The French Suite plays more eccentrically than the opening B-flat Partita. Shinners insists on thrusting the rhythm of the Courante of the French Suite forward by over-pedaling and jabbing the cadences. He likes to subito immediately to the next movement of any suite, especially the Sarabande. He can generate intimacy, certainly, and his vocal lines remain taut. The effects seem too contrived for my taste. But Shinners does not let Bach sag or become pedantic, like a certain Ms. Dinnerstein perpetrated at a Montalvo concert. The buoyant Bach dances, the Menuetts from the Partita and the Gavotte from the French Suite, bounce or jounce according to Shinners’ own lights. The Bourree comes closest to the Glenn Gould distortion of any of the movements on this disc. Shinners rather deconstructs it, the middle voices lording it over the chopped up metrics. The Gigue, however, bubbles and sings with unbuttoned fervor, and the Shinners cult eats it up. Band 17 actually provides an intermission announcement with a full complement of coughs and piano tuning.
Shinners and his elite corps of instrumentalists SUITS deliver a vivacious rendition of the Bach D Minor Concerto, given the thin texture of the few orchestral instruments. They certainly do keep up with Shinners’ rhythmic meanderings and added grace notes, so the improvisatory spirit rules. Shinners’ attacks, consistently potent, arrest us, and so does the puffy bassoon of the ensemble. The entire proceedings I find musical and infectious, enough to make me wonder what Shimmers will do next. If Shinners has a musical precedent, it may be less Glenn Gould than Keith Jarrett, but they are all good company.
—Gary Lemco