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Hyperion Records

CDA67344 - Bach: Piano Transcriptions, Vol. 3 – Friedman, Grainger & Murdoch
Front illustration by Donya Claire James (b?)

Recording details: May 2002
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Amanda Hurton
Engineered by Arne Akselberg
Release date: April 2003
Total duration: 75 minutes 30 seconds

'Could hardly be more exhilarating or enterprising … a memorable as well as enticing disc' (Gramophone)

'Lane commands the golden tone and effortless, spirited virtuosity needed to make these transcriptions come alive, and makes them sound easy to boot. A honey of a release' (BBC Music Magazine)

'This is wonderfully crafted piano music, marvellously executed by Lane … the playing is always supremely fluid and musically enquiring … this is another fascinating release from Hyperion' (International Record Review)

'A truly fascinating disc … Lane clearly relishes in the amusing challenges, but he also makes you wonder at the immensity of Bach’s genius' (Classic FM Magazine)

'Wonderful music, consummately transcribed and movingly played' (International Piano)

'Piers Lane succombe à ce charme, et nous avec lui' (Classica, France)

Piano Transcriptions, Vol. 3 – Friedman, Grainger & Murdoch
Largo  [3'22]
Fuga  [3'21]
Largo  [3'19]

Between the mid 19th century (the Romantic movement's rediscovery of Bach) and the period after the 2nd World War when a purist approach to Bach developed, many thousands of transcriptions were made of Bach's organ music, choral music, orchestral music and chamber music. Most of these transcriptions were made by virtuoso pianists and served both the purpose of presenting music that would otherwise not frequently be heard and also providing virtuoso repertoire where the pianist could demonstrate his powers. Until recently this area of repertoire was much frowned upon and while it has begun to return to favour, this series will be the first comprehensive survey of the genre.

This CD presents the complete Bach transcriptions of Grainger and Friedman plus one of many transcriptions by Grainger's fellow Australian, William Murdoch. There is a further Australian connection in that Friedman spent the 2nd World War in Australia and wrote his transcriptions there. They were published by Allan's Music of Melbourne.

Two contrasting versions of the Toccata & Fugue in D minor open and close the recital, with Murdoch's arrangement of what was already a Bach arrangement of Vivaldi in the middle. The smaller surrounding pieces range from the straightforward, to the almost outrageous Grainger Blithe Bells or Friedman Bourrée.

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Most of the great romantic pianists wrote their own arrangements, lovingly fashioned and fulfilling the aim of all good transcriptions—to show the player and their instrument at their best. This resulted in a vast literature for the piano of transcriptions from the most diverse sources—opera, songs, orchestral and choral works, organ music, works for unaccompanied strings: everything that could be successfully reinvented on the piano was transcribed, and the players and public thrived on the excitement this generated.

For the performer, this holds the key to the enduring appeal of so many of these works: the sheer voluptuous physical elation that comes from immersing oneself in music that is at once beautiful and intensely pianistic, and often—in the case of some huge transcriptions of organ works—thrillingly loud. How often does a pianist get the chance to be as overwhelmed with sound as one is singing the ‘Dies Irae’ from Verdi’s Requiem, for instance, or in an orchestra playing The Rite of Spring, or surrounded with wave upon fervent melodic wave as part of the chorus in Bach’s B minor Mass?

Although things are slowly changing it is still true to say that little in music polarises opinion to the same extent as the word transcription. The politically correct view is—or has been until recently—that the road to hell is paved with (good) transcriptions. The player has to traverse a veritable moral maze to defend his performance, and the willing listener has to risk a storm of opprobrium if he admits to liking some of the more extreme examples: enjoying Stokowski’s orchestral transcript of the D minor organ Toccata and Fugue is seen in some quarters as a sin on a par with a preference for sweet sherry. The question rages as to what one is playing—the composer or the arranger?—and it is true that these can often seem worlds apart. But if one accepts that the arranger is approaching the composition with care, respect and dedication—and this is a fair assumption, given the work that has to go into producing a good transcription—the key to the performance must lie with the perspective of the arranger. How we see Bach, for instance, is necessarily different from how Tausig or Busoni saw him. We live in different times, our attitudes are shaped by different life events, our feelings for interpretation and expression have completely different nuances. What matters is the sincerity with which the transcription was made.

Of all composers, Bach has lent himself most to being transcribed, and on one level it is easy to find the reason. A deep spirituality lies at the heart of all his works, and this chimed with the spirit of the late nineteenth century, its romantic, almost naive idealism as yet unshattered by the harshness of global warfare and its attendant brutal realism. Bach’s loftiness of vision and supreme mastery of contrapuntal form and texture made his works ideal structures from which to build. Percy Grainger, however, has another take on him: ‘My favourite composer is Bach’, he wrote … ‘his art, like himself, is cosmopolitan, subtle but lusty’.

Ignacy (Ignaz) Friedman (1882–1948) was born near Krakow, in the same little suburb as another legendary pianist, Josef Hofmann. Friedman’s studies with Flora Grzywinska introduced him at an early age to an extraordinarily wide range of music, forming the basis of the eclectic taste that was to serve him so well in his long and phenomenally successful recital career. His later studies with Leschetitzky consolidated a technique that even by the exceptional standards of the day was virtually unparalleled. His style was quiet and effortless, and although much has been written about his peerless interpretations of Chopin in particular, he brought the same degree of intelligent commitment to everything he played. At the outbreak of the Second World War he was on a concert tour in Australia, and unable to leave he remained there until his death in 1948. His playing career was cut short by a growing neuritis of his left hand, but his teaching career continued unabated, as well as his interest in editorial research and composition: he left more than ninety works, mainly miniatures for the piano, but also pieces for cello and a piano quintet. It is a tragedy that much of his recorded material has been lost, including precious hours from the radio recordings he made in Australia and New Zealand; there remain frustratingly few performances, given the range of repertoire he had at his command. Nevertheless, these recordings give us the privilege of hearing his sublime pianistic command, and the sense of poetry and drama which illuminated his interpretations.

William Murdoch (1888–1942) was born near Melbourne and lived there until he was eighteen, when he won a scholarship to study piano at the Royal College of Music in London. England was thereafter to remain his home, and it was from London that he forged a career that was quietly successful but deliberately low-profile. His interest in chamber music led him to establish playing partnerships that endured throughout his lifetime, notably with the violinist Albert Sammons and the violist Lionel Tertis, along with other like-minded players whose emphasis on integrity of musicianship chimed with Murdoch’s own attitudes. He never courted the limelight but was, nevertheless, a very considerable pianist, and alongside his concert career followed a busy recording schedule for Columbia and Decca. He made a pioneer acoustic recording of Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto with the conductor Hamilton Harty, and together with Sammons and the cellist W H Squire he made the first electrical recording of the ‘Archduke’ Trio. His interest in research resulted in books on Brahms and Chopin, and he also published a few songs and piano pieces, including several transcriptions of Bach chorale preludes and works by Handel and Vivaldi. He died in Surrey at the untimely age of fifty-four, a man whose modest appraisal of his own worth might be said to have coloured the public perception of his achievements: maybe with the re-issue of some of his fine recordings this perception is about to change.

Trying to get to grips with the complex character of (George) Percy Aldridge Grainger (1882–1961) is like walking into a hall of mirrors. He was a multi-talented man, an outstandingly gifted pianist, a composer of the greatest possible originality, a fine linguist, an inspiring teacher and lecturer, an inventor of experimental instruments. He possessed an enquiring mind and the capacity to follow his ideas through—his commitment to collecting, transcribing and recording folk-song is one such example. He had strong opinions on many subjects, which he had no hesitation in expressing; he had a passion for many disparate things—trains, health fads, extreme physical exercise—and an obsession for exploring philosophies he perceived to be connected to music, history and other life forces. But the original, enquiring mind could also lend itself to much darker urges, and these have to a great extent overshadowed his very real achievements. He was a liberal thinker whose ethnomusicological interests were genuine and profound, yet who wrote articles displaying deep racist tendencies. His sexual preferences (some of which are bizarre even by today’s standards) were graphically expounded to his future wife, Ella Ström, in his peculiarly personal semi-invented language, yet didn’t prevent their marriage, which indeed appears to have been happy. Both his playing and his compositions reflect accurately this inconsistent yet brilliant personality.

As a pianist he was not only hugely accomplished but also practical. His playing edition of Grieg’s piano concerto is a goldmine of clever ideas and arrangements that facilitate Grieg’s occasionally awkward writing without compromising the text. Although he suffered badly from performing nerves, his recordings show him to be quixotic but charismatic, unafraid to take risks, and—given his capacity for bombast—surprisingly unaffected. During his lifetime his fame as a pianist overshadowed his fame as a composer, a fact which caused him considerable distress: it would have distressed him a good deal more if he knew that his reputation, except to a handful of forward-thinking enthusiasts, had until recently rested on essentially lightweight compositions such as ‘Country Gardens’.

Interest is rising in the baffling, contradictory, creative, opinionated, passionate, often supremely generous and undoubtedly much loved man that was Percy Grainger. The jury will be out on many counts for some time to come, but posterity will surely agree with Harold Schonberg’s assessment of him as a pianist: ‘One of the keyboard originals—a pianist who forged his own style and expressed it with amazing skill, personality and vigour … whose interpretations never sounded forced … one of the most gifted pianists of the century.’

Toccata and Fugue in D minor for organ BWV565
(1) Arranged Percy Grainger, after Tausig and Busoni
(17) Arranged Ignaz Friedman

This piece must have been transcribed more often than almost any other: orchestral versions by Stokowski and Sir Henry Wood, numerous arrangements for brass band, several for two pianists and at least thirty for solo piano. The paradox is that its authenticity is in some doubt among scholars, but whether after all this time the authorship of this grandly expressive and at times flamboyant piece should have an effect on its popularity is a moot point. Tausig and Busoni both annotated their transcriptions for piano with copious directions to the performer, and Grainger has borrowed these and added his own to make a score that is both intensely creative and enticing to the player. Although Grainger frequently played his transcription, no manuscript copy exists. Leslie Howard has provided an accurate performing text, based on Grainger’s recordings of the work, and an attenuated selection of bits of passagework in Grainger’s hand, perhaps used for practice, and held in the Grainger Museum in Melbourne. Friedman’s version is a perhaps less adventurous but is nevertheless thoroughly pianistic: his aim throughout is to use the full sonority of the piano, and his transcription has above all nobility and a dramatic expressiveness.

(2) Chorale prelude ‘Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland’ BVW 659
Arranged Ignaz Friedman

Chorale Preludes may be seen as another form of transcription, since the themes on which they are based appear finally as part of a more elaborate and complex composition.

Bach set ‘Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland’ several times: it opens Cantatas 61 and 62 and appears as a duet in Cantata 36. There are five settings as a chorale prelude, and Friedman chooses the slowest and most expressive of them, heading it ‘Largo, maestoso e molto serioso’. His transcription follows the text quite faithfully, except for an odd little alteration of the inner voices in the last bar, and the words (a Lutherian translation of the Latin text) are beautifully mirrored ‘come, redeemer of mankind, whose birth … came from God to be the wonder of all the world’. The transcription inhabits very much the same world as Busoni’s.

(3) Concerto in D minor BWV596 (after Vivaldi’s L’Estro Armonico, Op 3 No 11)
Arranged William Murdoch

Part of Bach’s greatness was his willingness to embrace and learn from new influences and styles. When Vivaldi and other Italian composers burst upon his consciousness in the early eighteenth century, Bach set to work transcribing several of their concertos in order to further his understanding of this new and vigorous way of composition. He arranged sixteen concertos for solo harpsichord and four for solo organ. Until quite recently, there was a debate about the authorship of some of these, luminaries such as Mendelssohn attributing the Concerto in D minor to Bach’s son, Wilhelm Friedemann. During the journey from Vivaldi to Murdoch, via whichever Bach is currently in favour, this concerto has made several notable detours, particularly in the relative tempi. Although Vivaldi’s directions are quite clear, the tempi of Bach’s outer movements are unspecified, allowing Murdoch to translate Vivaldi’s fluid Allegro opening as a dark and weighty overture. The short series of chords which usher in the fugue have been transformed and extended into a highly dramatic episode, whilst keeping the harmonic progression intact. Here is the pivotal point—stylistically this transcription is light years away from the ‘galant’ style of the original, but it stays true to its essential structure. Bach, indeed, embroidered and filled out the melodies and accompanying figures to suit his chosen instrument, so one can reasonably say that William Murdoch is simply following in his footsteps.

(7) My Heart ever Faithful (‘Mein glaubiges Herze, frohlocke, sing’, scherze’, from Cantata 68)
Arranged Ignaz Friedman

This has to be one of Bach’s most gorgeous melodies, and it reflects the words in a supremely joyful way: ‘My faithful heart, exult, sing, be full of merriment—your Jesus is here. Away with misery, and complaining, I’ll just say to you, my Jesus is near.’ Bach’s profound and unshakeable belief in the nurturing power of his God gives this music a radiance that is deeply moving. Bach obviously realized the value of the aria since he borrowed it from Cantata 208, altering and rescoring it for Cantata 68. The semiquavers of Bach’s accompaniment run almost continuously, but Friedman takes a more gentle overall view, allowing periods of calm before the aria builds up to its triumphant end.

(8) Brandenburg Concerto No 3 in G major BWV1048
(first movement) Arranged Ignaz Friedman

Dedicated to Margrave Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg, these six concertos appeared in 1721 as a collection of ‘Concerts for several instruments’. Two groups of contrasting size characterized the more usual concerto grosso, but in the Brandenburg concerti this concept was abandoned in favour of different combinations of instruments used in a generally soloistic fashion. Some use trumpet, oboe and flute, but the Third Concerto in G major is scored for just the brightness of strings and continuo. Friedman transcribes only the first movement, and it works very well—it is such a gloriously happy work that it must also have given him great pleasure to play.

(9) Chorale Prelude ‘Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme’ BWV645 (Schübler Chorale No 1)
Arranged Ignaz Friedman as Morning Song (Morgenlied)

Sometimes the contrapuntal motif of a chorale prelude is as familiar to us as the chorale tune—‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring’ is one example. The famous chorale prelude ‘Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme’ is another, the assured tread of its opening announcing the news the watchman brings: ‘Wake up, wake up, Jerusalem! … Your bridegroom is coming … Alleluia! make yourselves ready for the wedding, you must go forward to meet Him’. Between 1724 and 1731 half-a-dozen chorale preludes from various cantatas were arranged by Bach for the publisher Johann Georg Schübler; Friedman calls this one ‘Morning Song’. The only somewhat disturbing note in his otherwise grand and reverential transcription is the unnecessary anticipation of the pedal line. The simple opening quaver of Bach’s original lifts us eloquently enough into the movement of the prelude.

(10) Bourrée (from Partita No 1 in B minor for solo violin, BWV1002)
(12) Gavotte (Rondeau) (from Partita No 3 in E major for solo violin, BWV1006)
Arranged Ignaz Friedman

The sonatas and partitas for solo violin and the suites for solo cello show how detailed was Bach’s knowledge of the possibilities of these instruments, and how far the inherent expressive and virtuoso qualities could be stretched. With just the single solo line available the contrapuntal and harmonic structure could for the most part only be implied, but Bach’s genius endowed these pieces with such depth and substance that they are totally satisfying and complete. Nevertheless, realising the implied harmonies and counterpoint offers the transcriber unlimited opportunities for invention. Notable examples must also include Rachmaninov’s transcription of the Prelude, Gavotte and Gigue from the above Partita in E, and Busoni’s majestic arrangement of the Chaconne from the D minor Partita.

(11) Sheep may safely graze (‘Schafe können sicher weiden’, from Cantata 208)
Arranged Ignaz Friedman
(16) Blithe Bells (Sheep may safely graze)
Arranged Percy Grainger

This enduringly popular aria comes from the hunting Cantata ‘Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd’ (‘What really pleases me is the lively hunt’) written for the birthday of Duke Christian of Weissenfels. It naturally sets out to flatter and to please, and the aria ‘Schafe können sicher weiden’ refers to his benign rule and not, as is sometimes assumed, to Jesus as the Good Shepherd. ‘Sheep may safely graze where a good shepherd is watching over them. When a ruler governs well, one can feel the peace and tranquility which make for a happy country.’ The aria is sung in the cantata by Pales, the god/goddess who looks after sheep and shepherds, and the gentle rocking accompaniment of two flutes and continuo is thought to echo the sound of sheep bells. Whilst Friedman stays close to the original in his warm and evocative transcription of the aria, Grainger chooses to have ‘a free ramble’ through it, delivering more a paraphrase than a transcription. His idiosyncratic harmonies and phrasing, the extreme voicing and the myriad directions to the performer mean that this is more Grainger than Bach—but his confidence carries the listener with him and turns initial surprise into delight.

(13) Fugue in A minor BWV865 (from Das wohltemperierte Clavier Book 1)
(14) Fugue in E major from BWV878 (from Das wohltemperierte Clavier Book 2)
Arranged Percy Grainger

Although we are used today to hearing the two books of Preludes and Fugues played as a set, they were not written in strict order, nor did all the fugues necessarily belong indivisibly to their designated preludes. Their beauty lies not so much in the logical progression but in the extraordinary variety of style. As such they are ideal candidates for study, and Bach probably used them, along with the inventions and sinfonias, ‘to teach clear playing in two or three obligato parts, good inventions, and a cantabile manner of playing’. Grainger certainly used them in his highly successful piano classes in America, working with four players on two pianos and encouraging the students to explore the possibilities of each individual voice. Grainger then united the two piano version into one score: John Pickard, in his introduction to the arrangement of the A minor fugue, paints an irresistible picture of Grainger setting out to transcribe utterly faithfully Bach’s original text, and being gradually overtaken by a wild longing to add, decorate and embroider, until ‘the printed copy is entirely abandoned in favour of Grainger’s own … version’—a remarkable insight into the workings of this astonishingly original composer.

(15) Siciliano (from Sonata in E flat major for flute and harpsichord, BWV1031)
Arranged Ignaz Friedman

Considerable doubt exists as to the authenticity of this sonata, but the Siciliano in particular is so charming that this transcription by Friedman is in no way invalidated. The original score is simple and spare, the flute melody being accompanied by gentle, unobtrusive semiquavers, and Friedman retains the tranquility of the movement even while he fleshes out the score with his particularly romantic view of sonority. He chooses to add a two-bar introduction to the entry of the melody, adapting it cunningly from the short harpsichord interlude which connects the two sections of the original.

Kathron Sturrock © 2003

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