Bach With a Twist

Period-piece keyboard concertos are given a successful modern twist.

Composer: Bach

Repertoire: Keyboard Concertos, BWV1053-56 and BWV1058

Artist: Nick van Bloss, English Chamber Orchestra/David Parry
Rating: 4/5

Genre: Orchestral

Label: Nimbus Alliance NI 6141

The Music: Written in the 1730s as the keyboard began to emerge as a soloist instrument in its own right, these lively concertos are arrangements of works for violin and oboe and will be familiar to many in those earlier incarnations. For instance, BWV1058 is an arrangement of the popular Violin Concerto No.1.

The Performance: Van Bloss gives a period performance with a twist by playing a modern concert grand. In a way, it’s a stroke of genius. Given the harpsichord’s inability to sustain notes, the modern piano is perhaps a better fit for the smooth violin and oboe lines that Bach originally composed. Furthermore, Van Bloss’s touch is a delight for its delicate fluidity, overall lyricism and sense of playfulness. Tempos too are nicely judged, the faster movements upbeat without racing. There’s more of a timbral mismatch in BWV1058’s Andante, though. Here, the piano’s strong resonance feels overbearing against the orchestra’s crisp, light sound. 

The Verdict: Who’s to say that Bach wouldn’t have opted for a concert grand, given the choice? There’s the odd moment where it feels too heavy, but largely Van Bloss’s sensitive delivery means the piano sounds surprisingly right. Well worth a listen.

Want More? David Fray created a thought-provoking recital when he paired Bach with Boulez, performed on a modern piano (Virgin Classics, 385 7872).