The Art of BACH = Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit (arr. by Gyorgy Kurtag) = Concerto in C Major for 2 Pianos, BWV 1061; St. Matthew Passion – Suite for 2 Pianos (arr. Anderson & Roe); The Art of Fugue: Contrapunctus IX, XIIIA, XIIIB; 5 Canons on the Goldberg Ground; Die Seele ruht in Jesu Haenden (arr. Anderson & Roe); Sheep May Safely Graze (arr. Howe); Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major, BWV 1048 (arr. Reger) – Greg Anderson & Elizabeth Joy Roe, pianos/ Augustin Hadelich, violin – Steinway & Sons 30033, 74:14 (1/12/15) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
Former Juilliard students, piano-duo Anderson & Roe (estab. 2002), turn to the world of J.S. Bach in order to “present a complete portrait” of his work, “to showcase the extraordinary range of his compositional output.” Consequently, diverse opera assume the two-piano medium from chorale-preludes to concertos, from cantatas and solo salon works to the grandest of all the passion-music Bach created. Thus, the program falls into three categories: the secular, the scholarly, and the sacred.
The Bach concert opens with Gottes Zeit ist allerbeste Zeit, arranged by Gyorgy Kurtag as poignant dialogue in which the piano part requires overlapped arms, in order to signify the cross. This decidedly devotional sensibility returns quite soon, in the St. Matthew Passion – Suite, opening with the lament, Erbarme dich, mein Gott, which would naturally begin with a violin obbligato and alto voice. Almost pure harmonic ground, the chorale Wie wunderbarlich ist doch diese Strafe in loving parlando, ensues. Magically transparent, Aus Liebe will mein Heiland sterben, places Jesus upon the cross for love of Mankind. The blood of Christ finds renewal in O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden leads to our own acceptance of the mystical gesture in Mache dich, mein Herze, rein, emergent as a kind of contrapuntal pastoral. Violinist Augustin Hadelich joins Anderson & Roe in their effective arrangement of the tender aria from Cantata 127, “The soul rests in Jesus’ Hands.” The middle section could have easily inspired much of the Mendelssohn sacred tradition in music. The da capo features Handelich in aerial harmonics of glittering piano chords in the upper register.
The Art of Fugue, Bach’s final colossus, extends his creative art backwards into an academic, “learned style” distinctly out of fashion even in his own day. Organist Philip Jordan, in demonstrating a fugue to me, explained the dark hue of the opus in the following terms: “This is God’s beholding our wonderful planet and meditating on exactly what Man has done with it.” Anderson & Roe first address the mighty Contrapunctus IX, a double fugue with an inversion at the twelfth. The dancing capacity of inversion recurs in the next two exercises, which like to maneuver treble and bass lines in mirror-images. Five canons based on the Ground from the Goldberg Theme, BWV 1087 exploit the first eight notes in the bass. The “crux” motif appears in No. 11 inverted, and we wonder if Bach’s notion is to suggest both our rejection of and need for salvation.
The three secular works – Concerto in C for 2 Pianos; Sheep May Safely Graze; Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 – each moves with aggressively brilliant contrapuntal energy without having sacrificed Bach’s innately meditative lyricism, as in the Adagio ovvero Largo from the BWV 1061. Sheep May Safely Graze, usually ascribed to the secular “Hunt” Cantata 208, originally served as Tafelmusik for Duke Christian of Saxe-Weissenfels. That the pastoral “shepherd” motif can metaphorically embrace Our Lord obviously appealed to the arranger, pianist Mary Howe in the 1930s. The ever-motorized Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G, originally for string consort, makes a fine bravura toccata for Anderson & Roe in Max Reger’s solo-piano, four hands arrangement. A busy piece, the Reger approach – and he adds an arpeggiated, brief Adagio – has the duo in both synchronized and contrary motions, often variegating their respective touches, all the while maintaining that unique singing line that proves the very essence of the Bach mystique.
The production and engineering by Steven Epstein had my toes tapping and my fingers moving in happy sympathy with our principals.