The fifth volume in Hyperion’s enlightening voyage through the distinguished legacy of piano transcriptions of Bach masterpieces brings us to a fascinating programme of Russian realizations. In his accompanying essay Hamish Milne makes an ardent case for the transcriber’s art, tracing a history of Bach performance through the ages which gives the lie to the conventional obscurity-before-Mendelssohn theory. A continuous tradition can be followed which sees Bach’s legacy constantly being reinvented in the language of the day, and nowhere was this tradition more vigorous than in Russia.
This recital is underpinned by monumental transcriptions by Goedicke and Catoire whose pianistic complexities comprehensively interpret those areas of performance practice, notably tempo and rubato, which Bach left to the performer’s instinct. At once audacious and characterful, these pillars of the genre are offset by delicate transcriptions by Alexander Siloti which serve as a fascinating and fastidious codification of the aristocratic pianism of the day.
Concluding Hamish Milne’s masterful programme comes Kabalevsky’s mighty transcription of the ‘Dorian’ Toccata and Fugue; whatever may be lacking in subtlety, one can hardly deny the thrilling power of the climaxes.
Hamish Milne’s performances are a revelation. In the monumental grandeur of his playing, contrasted with an exquisite range of colour and glorious singing lines, his playing embodies the tradition of the golden age of pianism from which these transcriptions emerged.