This article might be of interest to some of us here:
From Sunday New York Times:
July 1, 2001
Taking Liberties With Bach
By BERNARD HOLLAND
MURRAY PERAHIA'S new recording of three Bach keyboard concertos
pays a little attention to history but not too much, and this may be its main
attraction. All of these pieces display a secondhand authenticity to begin with. The
popular D minor began as a violin concerto, but we have lost the original. The
gentler E major has clouded origins. The A major, say the program notes for this
Sony Classical release, first had an oboe d'amore as its solo instrument.
When Bach was rearranging the concertos for his musical-social club in Leipzig, he
had few apparent thoughts for their pristine original state, yet we hear no protests
from the early-music lobby over Bach's violations of himself. Perhaps the pure of
heart are saving their indignation for another new CD: an EMI reissue of Dinu
Lipatti's performance of Bach's D minor Concerto with Eduard van Beinum and the
Concertgebouw Orchestra, which appends the dreaded "-Busoni" to the great
Both of these recordings play fast and loose with period correctness, Mr. Perahia's
perhaps being the more discreet. Both he and his smartly prepared Academy of St.
Martin-in- the-Fields whale away with modern piano and strings and, as far as I can
tell, at a thoroughly up-to-date level of pitch. He does use the theorbo, a kind of
bass lute, for continuo parts, surmising that it, rather than a second harpsichord,
would have been easier to carry into Zimmermann's Coffee House, where these
Konzert-Kaffeeklatsches took place.
What we have here are performances that are out of time: not a bad place to put
them. They neutralize history, telling stories whose truths and untruths are irrelevant.
Patina and restoration alike give them a new identity. It makes us wonder whether
all music is contemporary. For those who insist on historical context, Mr. Perahia's
Bach looks judiciously both backward and forward: to the left of Colonial
Williamsburg but quite a ways from the Swingle Singers or Robert Moog's
The Lipatti performance, recorded live and somewhat obscurely in 1947, is even
more Darwinian in adapting to its surroundings. The audience in Amsterdam had yet
to be affected by the archaeological army soon to make war on big orchestras, A =
440 pitch and strings made of metal, not gut. If Mr. Perahia's D minor is brisk and
driven, the Lipatti is much slower. Weight and gravitational pull have the same effect
on music, I think, as they do on any physical object accelerating from a state of rest.
The idea of heaviness as a function of time also turns the word "gravity" to its
metaphorical meaning. Mr. Perahia's zip and vigor are wonders of articulation and
honest energy; the music flies. But there is a case for the measured, dignified
progress of the Lipatti tempos as well. Lipatti's playing has a bittersweet irony
common to almost all the recordings he made of 18th-century repertory. His was
perhaps the truest, most Apollonian heart ever to sit at the piano, and here we find it
working splendidly from editions that today's scholars could only call corrupt.
Busoni's main contribution to the string parts is sheer numbers. In the piano solos he
interjects treble filigree and booming bass octaves to shore up big climaxes.
Repeated figures turn up with thirds or sixths attached. It is all beautifully done and
not at all grotesque. Busoni turns Bach into a model late-19th-century rhetorician.
Lipatti, we are told, was well aware of Bach's original but thought the update wholly
Also on this CD are live recordings of the Liszt E flat Concerto and the Bartok No.
3. Ernest Ansermet conducts the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and Paul Sacher
the Southwest German Radio Orchestra. The sound is murky and uneven, but
hearing this pianist in 1947 and 1948 is instructive under any conditions. He died of
leukemia in 1950, at 33.
His few studio recordings reveal perhaps the first instrumentalist of the new
long-playing era fully to understand the nature of the process. Whereas Artur
Schnabel had in the 1930's refused the opportunity to redo suspect takes, seeing
recordings as mere anecdotes, Lipatti seems to have sensed the permanence of
these enterprises, their irreversibility and their status as monuments.
Mr. Perahia has spent (in my mind, wasted) a part of his career proving to the world
that he can play the big Lisztian pieces of the repertory. And so he can, even if the
triumphs over music like the "Mephisto Waltzes" have sounded somewhat grim and
joyless. Apparently recovered from the hand injury that laid him low for a number of
years, he is showing us in these Bach recordings virtuosity in a more significant sense
of the word.
Indeed, the ability to execute intricate passagework at rapid speeds in these
performances without betraying a hint of pressure or anxiety is absolutely
extraordinary. The scale- arpeggio-octave school of pianism is one demonstration of
a pianist's physical skill. Less demonstrative but perhaps more testing are Bach's
crossing patterns and the necessity to sort them out by means of varied weights and
pressures. This is what finger control is about, although it, like all musical virtuosity,
begins in the ears, not the hands.
As to Busoni, Lipatti and modern pianos and violins, I suggest a walk through the
Forum in Rome, where medieval architects happily attached churches to ancient
pagan buildings with an eye to making the past serve the present. The results are
stirring. I don't think Bach would have minded being desecrated, just so long as he
was desecrated well.