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Hyperion Records

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Front illustration by Donya Claire James (b?)
Track(s) taken from CDA67709
Recording details: June 2009
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Rachel Smith
Engineered by David Hinitt
Release date: March 2010
Total duration: 10 minutes 49 seconds

'Lane takes no prisoners in these sonorous and exhilarating performances, conjuring up from the Steinway's richly resonant bass a cathedral's 32 foot pedal division to thrilling effect … I guarantee you will come away awed anew by the genuis of Bach and amazed by the ingenuity of d'Albert' (Gramophone)

'D'Albert's versions of the the C minor Passacaglia, and the Preludes and Fugues in C minor and A major, are extraordinary and exquisite, and Lane plays them with a ravishing finesse that belies their often monumental difficulty' (The Guardian)

'I found Lane's Prelude (Toccata) and Fugue in D minor, BWV538 unassailably alive to the possibilities that both Bach and d'Albert leave open. The rhythmic impulse never flags, the pithy contrapuntal detail keeps afloat and there is a subliminal sense of goal to keep the thing intact. The A major Fugue, BWV536 shows the pianist highly authoritative and, for me, underlines the highest musicianship' (International Record Review)

'Masterly performances by Piers Lane. D'Albert's versions … didn't attempt to make the instrument sound like a cathedral organ. In his ingenious hands, they become compelling piano pieces' (The Sunday Times)

Passacaglia in C minor, BWV582

Other recordings available for download
Angela Hewitt (piano)
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Eugen d’Albert (1864–1932) was another virtuoso pianist attracted to the music of Bach. Born in Glasgow to a French father and a German mother, he studied briefly with Sir Arthur Sullivan in London but then found his spiritual home in Germany where he became one of Liszt’s most brilliant pupils. In fact he so disliked being called an ‘English’ pianist that in 1884 he wrote:

Unfortunately I studied for a considerable period in that land of fogs, but during that time I learned absolutely nothing; indeed, had I remained there much longer, I should have gone to utter ruin … only since I left that barbarous land have I begun to live. And I live now for the unique, true, glorious, German art.

His life was tempestuous (six wives), his career as a virtuoso short due to his greater interest in composition. His transcription of one of Bach’s greatest organ works, the Passacaglia in C minor, BWV582 shows what a flair he must have had at the keyboard, and why Liszt called him a ‘second Tausig’ and ‘our young lion’. He does manage, nevertheless, to stay remarkably close to the original, even if his frequent change of dynamics and tempi are very much of their time. I find his articulations and phrasing very close to what I would imagine Bach wanted, and the overall ‘editing’ of the work very convincing. I have changed a few things to be closer to Bach rather than d’Albert (beginning the trills from the upper note, for instance!), but these are minor adjustments.

So much for d’Albert. What is Bach saying in this piece? A passacaglia is a set of variations over a ground bass (constantly repeating itself). The first half of the theme Bach uses for this one was borrowed from a passacaglia by the French composer André Raison (1650–1720). The twenty variations and fugue which follow are grouped so as to provide points of maximum tension and release. There is some discussion as to whether or not it was originally intended for a two-manual pedal harpsichord rather than the organ, which I think is plausible. Recent research also dates the work to Bach’s time in Arnstadt (1703–1707) when he was clearly influenced by his hearing Buxtehude in Lübeck. The fugue is not a separate entity but rather an integral part of the passacaglia, using the first part of the theme as its subject, along with a persistent countersubject that greatly adds to the culminating excitement. It is refreshing to hear the passacaglia theme break out in different keys rather than simply restating it in the tonic as was the case in the variations. In the last few lines the music comes to a brief halt on a Neapolitan sixth chord (D flat major). As Peter Williams says: ‘Even a Neapolitan sixth can never sound as well as it does at the end of this fugue; theoretically the effect is ordinary, but in its context the chord is magnificent.’ I’m not surprised that d’Albert chose to transcribe this particular work, as I’m sure he had the drama and power to match.

from notes by Angela Hewitt © 2001

Other albums featuring this work
'Bach Arrangements' (CDA67309)
Bach Arrangements

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