BACH IN TRANSCRIPTIONPiano Transcriptions by Bauer, Busoni, Friedman, Godowsky, Grainger, Liszt and Siloti
Johann Sebastian Bach
JEAN ALEXIS SMITH, piano
"[ * * * * ] In this distinguished selection Smith reveals herself as a musician whose considerable virtuosity is devotedly placed at the service of the music. Sensitive or dramatic as required, thoughtfully nuanced in matters of tone, articulation and spirit, she gratifyingly explores and communicates the essential musical 'truths' at the heart of each composition. Always expressive but never self-indulgent, Smith eschews arbitrary tempo fluctuations—no dubious interpretative 'profundities' disturb the musical flow, either in the swift and sure extroversion of the Toccata’s swirling scalar passages or in the meditative reflections of the several religiously inspired pieces. Phrasing, pedaling, and dynamic control are exemplary. Smith has performed a service in making these transcriptions available on one CD".
Robert Schulslaper, Fanfare [September/October 2019]
"Smith’s recording is outstanding, a universal triumph transcending its Borobudur origins... Smith has also mastered the art of playing the piano... the music was transporting... [I was] drawn into listening not only to the transcriptions that rose out of Bach's Baroque methodology but also to Smith's pouring all that she is into her playing them. What beauty has been captured on this disc."
Joel C. Thompson, Cherry Grove Music Review [September 2019]
"A mixture of pianistic brilliance and emotional resonance can be found in a fascinating MSR Classics CD featuring Bach transcriptions created by seven important piano virtuosos of the 19th and early 20th century... Smith clearly enjoys exploring the varying approaches to Bach heard here, and she offers enthusiastic playing throughout. In one sense, none of this material is Bach – certainly none of it is Bach as Bach intended his music to be heard – but in another sense, in terms of communicating the feelings and emotions of the music to much later times, when the harpsichord, clavichord and organ had given way to pianos approximating those we know today, these pieces are very effective indeed."
Mark J. Estren, InfoDad.com [September 2019]
"Smith gets at the heart of our wonder at Bach’s unmatched capacity to merge spirituality, emotion, melody, and counterpoint. Strongly recommended."
Huntley Dent, Fanfare [September/October 2019]
"[Jean Alexis Smith] plays a program that is obviously close to her heart... In their piano illuminations of Bach pieces that were originally written for other instruments, they all had much to say in their own right. All cultivated a spirit of veneration for their great predecessor that was far from servile... [In the Liszt] Smith obviously relishes the amenities of transcriptions that celebrate the spirits of both Bach and Liszt... Zestfulness and deceptive ease characterize Smith’s present account [of Godowsky’s transcription of the Adagio from Violin Sonata No.2]... This album [is a] unique invitation to musical adventure!"
Phil Muse, Atlanta Audio Club [June 2019]
PROGRAM NOTESBACH IN TRANSCRIPTION
The art of transcription is a very old and time honored craft, dating as far back as the Middle Ages when vocal compositions were often transcribed for the pipe organ and lute. During the subsequent Baroque period, this practice became even more widespread, culminating with works of Johann Sebastian Bach, who is acknowledged today as perhaps the greatest keyboard transcriber in history. Over half of his transcriptions were based either on his own pre-existing compositions or adapted from the works of other composers.
In the mid nineteenth century Romantic movement, Bach’s works were rediscovered and thousands of transcriptions were created from Bach’s tremendous musical output. Most of these transcriptions were composed by virtuoso pianists, serving the dual purpose of presenting music that would not otherwise be frequently heard while concomitantly providing virtuoso repertoire for pianists to demonstrate their talents.
Bach and Liszt are certainly among the most important composers in the history of keyboard literature. There are many similarities between them. Both were prolific composers as well as great virtuosos on different keyboard instruments and both were important representatives of their respective Baroque and Romantic periods. Bach and Liszt also demonstrated a predilection for composing skillful transcriptions for keyboard instruments. Of paramount significance, both Bach and Liszt were inspired by strong religious convictions.
By the time Liszt appeared on the scene, the piano had evolved to a complete and powerful instrument that was discovered to be capable of providing a greater depth of expression than any other instrument. To a great extent, Liszt’s transcriptions were pioneering efforts and are recognized today as an extremely important body of work. After his death, Ferruccio Busoni, Leopold Godowsky, Alexander Siloti, Harold Bauer and other prominent composers, artists and students, ushered the art of the transcription into the twentieth century.
As the twentieth century progressed, transcriptions unfortunately largely disappeared from concert programs. Busoni, the twentieth century Italian composer and pianist, believed that this disappearance was the consequence of inferior performances of Liszt’s works by superficial virtuosos who emphasized brilliance at the expense of melody and substance. Indeed, some of the Romantic transcriptions are fiendishly difficult and a tremendous test of a pianist’s abilities. For Busoni, whether a piece was a transcription or not was irrelevant because he believed that all music existed in the cosmos and, consequently, a composer’s original work actually constituted the first transcription! For him, a “subsequent” transcription of an original work was, by comparison, a relatively modest step.
American pianist Jean Alexis Smith has enjoyed a versatile career as a concerto soloist, chamber musician and solo recitalist. A native of California, Smith has performed solo recitals at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. and Paul Hall in Lincoln Center. Other solo performances include the Conservatorio de Musica Statale Naples, the American Academy in Rome and the opening recital of the Fundão International Piano Competition. In San Francisco, she has given solo recitals at the Palace of the Legion of Honor, Performances at 6, The Commonwealth Club and Old First Concerts. Appearances with orchestras include the North Jersey Philharmonic and Carleton College Orchestra in Minnesota, and in California with the San Jose Symphony, Kensington Orchestra, Nova Vista Symphony and Stanford University Orchestra. Chamber music appearances include the San Jose Symphony Chamber Players, New World String Quartet, San Francisco Wind Ensemble, Women’s Philharmonic Chamber Players, Stanford Contemporary Music Ensemble and the Baroque Arts Ensemble in California. Smith has performed numerous times on both National Public Radio and television, including the West Coast Weekend, KQED, Voice of America, Women’s Philharmonic, NPR and Santa Rosa Public Radio. The Bechstein piano maker sponsored a solo recital for public TV in Arkansas. She received the Bronze Medal for outstanding work by the city of Fundão, Portugal, where she served as an adjudicator for two consecutive years. A winner of the USIA Piano Competition, she won the Soloist Award while attending Stanford University. The film “Virtuoso, the Olga Samaroff Story”, awarded Best Documentary at the Berkeley Film Festival, included performances by Smith. Smith’s piano studies began with Alexander Liebermann in California and continued with Irwin Freundlich, Jeannine Dowes and Joseph Raiff in New York. She studied with Guido Agosti at the Fondazione Accademia Musicale Chigiana in Sienna with full scholarship, and with Carlo Bruno in Rome. At Stanford University, she studied with Adolph Baller. An active recording artist, she has released an album featuring works by Bach-Busoni/Petri, Mendelssohn and Chopin, another of music by Franz Liszt and Jose Viana da Mota, and a third of Chopin Nocturnes (Centaur). Smith currently performs and teaches in California, and has served on the faculty of the College of Marin. She holds a Bachelor of Music degree from The Juilliard School and a Master of Music degree from Stanford University.
[ www.jeanalexissmith.com ]
PROGRAMJOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH (1685-1750)
Transcription: Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924)
TOCCATA IN C MAJOR from Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C major, BWV 564
Transcription: Ignaz Friedman (1882-1948)
MY HEART EVER FAITHFUL from Cantata No.68, BWV 68
Transcription: Harold Bauer (1873-1951)
THE SOUL RESTS IN JESUS’ HANDS from Cantata No.127, BWV 127
Transcription: Ferruccio Busoni
ADAGIO IN A MINOR from Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C major, BWV 564
Transcription: Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
PRELUDE AND FUGUE IN A MINOR, BWV 543
Transcription: Alexander Siloti (1863-1945)
PRELUDE IN B MINOR from Prelude in E minor, BWV 855a
Transcription: Leopold Godowsky (1870-1936)
ADAGIO IN C MAJOR from Violin Sonata No.2 in A minor, BWV 1003
Transcription: Ferruccio Busoni
I CALL UNTO THEE O LORD from 10 Chorale Preludes (Orgelbüchlein), BWV 639
A free ramble by Percy Grainger (1882-1961)
BLITHE BELLS (“SHEEP MAY SAFELY GRAZE”) from Cantata No.208, BWV208