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Tuesday, July 2, 2019
Johann Sebastian Bach, Magna Sequentia I, Sonia Rubinsky
And a fine thing that is. Piano renditions of Bach keyboard (harpsichord) music have a certain Modern tang to them by virtue of the nature of the pianoforte sounding naturally more contemporary than a harpsichord, of course. Ever since Glenn Gould's wondrous piano Bach we are prepared to bring to the hearing of such excursions a sense of adventure. Sonia Rubinsky does not disappoint. She can take things at a somewhat rapid clip like Gould sometimes did, and then we are wow-ed by some dexterous feats of velocity but like Gould always with musicality, never in some kind of obvious horse-race of fingers.
The back cover blurb to the album suggests more, indeed a good deal more than a simple flurry of the digits. It tells us to bear in mind "her historically informed performance," indeed to consider how "Magna Sequentia I offers fresh insights into Bach performance on a modern grand piano." We should consider that each dance in a suite, according to the music theorist of the time Mattheson (so the liners tell us), was meant to have a particular affect, so a Gavotte evoked "joy," a Sarabande was "serious" and sometimes even "sad," etc.
Sonia picks each movement in sequence for such considerations, but also for the tonal logic that arises out of the opening strains of the Bach Partita No. 4. She also takes the trouble to ensure that there are a few of each dance movement possibility, for affect and also to give the overall program the maximum of diverse variety as Bach conceived of it. She alternates the ornate French style with the straightforward and at times virtuoso Italian style and then again intersperses a few centerpieces of German fugal approaches for dramatic weight. So she seeks to evoke a sort of cornucopia of shades of musical meaning as Bach himself intended in his suites the way he himself ordered them.
All this matters because in the end the pleasure of hearing the sequence unfold as it does relates to what Ms. Rubinsky has considered in working out the selection and order. So all that makes perfect and happy sense. The fine pianism itself in the end brings the rest of the experience together for us and puts us in a mood of satisfaction, fulfillment, Bach bliss if you are anything like me. Of the extant 19 Bach suites for keyboard, Sonia has chosen well in this first volume of her Magna Sequentia.
Very gladly recommended. This is the Bach Suite connection you might crave. If you do, here it is in a fine performance at a good price! Bravo! The reordering for old-salt listeners freshens things considerably too. Either way this is a genuine pleasure and an adventure for anyone who is ready and willing.