Magazine article Gramophone

Percussive Bach: William Yeoman Samples a Selection of Discs Exploring Bach on Marimba and Vibraphone, Jazz Piano and Harpsichord

Magazine article Gramophone

Percussive Bach: William Yeoman Samples a Selection of Discs Exploring Bach on Marimba and Vibraphone, Jazz Piano and Harpsichord

Article excerpt

The music of JS Bach continues to prove as durable and adaptable as ever, as evidenced by four recent releases for (mostly) percussion instruments: two featuring the marimba, one the vibraphone and one a piano/ harpsichord duo. Interestingly, the relatively dry sound and lack of sustain of the marimba tends to underscore the more austere elements in Bach's music, while the vibraphone's brighter sound and greater sustain nevertheless evoke a more abstract, meditative quality. In perhaps the most intriguing recording here, the piano and harpsichord combine all these qualities and more, while departing substantially from the Bachian source material through the agency of original composition and extended improvisations.

The young Italian marimba player Stanislao Marco Spina began exploring the possibilities of Bach's music on his instrument around five years ago and admits his 'desire can only grow, to continue along this path on which I have just started'. Listening to these first fruits of his explorations, one can only rejoice in such an admission. The programme has been intelligently curated, with the C major Prelude from Book 1 of The Well-Tempered Clavier, the Fugue from the G minor Solo Violin Sonata, the Aria and first variation from the Goldberg Variations and the Andante from Italian Concerto prefacing a complete performance of the D minor Solo Violin Partita. Mozart's Fantasia in D minor, K397, can be considered an encore. In each case--and this can be heard most clearly in the D minor Chaconne Spina's unhurried delineation of structure and phrasing is heightened by a peculiar sensitivity to dynamic shading, purposeful suggestion and the silence enveloping each tone.

For his debut recital recording, vibes player Ja Hsieh in some respects goes one further than Spina by giving us the Solo Violin Sonatas and Partitas complete. As he writes in his booklet-note, 'four-mallet technique and the pedal of the vibes allow me to reinterpret Bach's contrapuntal and polyphonic writing style' while feeling he was 'exploring the roots of Baroque music, arts and architecture through this legendary repertoire'. His confidence is well-founded, with the fugal movements especially benefiting from tones being given their full value while still retaining something of the pealing of bells. In quicker movements such as the Corrente from Partita No 2 or the Presto from the G minor Sonata, Hsieh indulges in an almost imperceptible 'swing' which, combined with some superbly dramatised crescendos, results in a forwards momentum that is more evoked than forcefully realised. …

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