Thursday 5 May 2022

AETERNUM / BACH & BEETHOVEN / Eliane Rodrigues, Piano / Review



Eliane Rodrigues, Piano

Navona Records  NV 6285 / TT: 74'00"


Browsing through the catalogue of the New Hampshire-based Navona Records label, the name of one artist truly stands out: Brazilian pianist Eliane Rodrigues. Now based in Antwerp (Belgium), she has amassed an impressive discography, having garnered a reputation of being some kind of a super-virtuoso. This album confirms her prowess as both an imaginative transcriber and a stunningly original performer.  


Transcriptions of J.S.Bach and Beethoven for piano have been dominated by the likes of Ferruccio Busoni and Franz Liszt for as long as the instrument’s history, and one imagines that the efforts of both pianist-composers to be unsurpassed. What more can be said about the already familiar music in multiple recordings, but Rodrigues brings many surprises to the table.


Four Bach works selected here were originally for organ, but with ingenious reworkings of voices and harmonies (and not the musical themes), these translate perfectly well for piano. The Prelude and Fugue in G major (BWV.541), comes like faceful of ice cold water, an onslaught of unlikely intervals in the brief prelude. This rash of dissonances has a transformative effect but parity is restored in the fugue. The better-known Fantasia and Fugue in G minor (BWV.542) sounds more like an improvisation, both in the first half as well as the indestructible fugue which is a truly rocking affair.


The dense organ textures of Prelude and Fugue in A minor (BWV.543) are swept clear to reveal a slick and sleek torso while revelling in altered harmonies. The portentous opening of the very familiar Toccata and Fugue in D minor (BWV.565) is retained, with certain harmonies reconfigured to pique the ears. The music box effects and fanciful sweeps of arpeggios in the fugue are playful excursions not to be found in the original or Busoni and Tausig’s famous transcriptions. The idea to insert Beethoven symmetrically between the Bach works was also a good one.


There is less intervention in Rodrigues’ take on Beethoven’s Symphony No.5 in C minor (Op.67), which is built upon Liszt’s mighty transcription. Without compromising its architecture and supporting structures, she instead fills in various textures and details, like octaves and added beats, while removing obstacles which impede the music’s inexorable flow. Everything is accomplished in big broad strokes, conveying its might and grandeur without apology. Her infallible technique and physical endurance holds up well to Lisztian (as well as self-imposed) challenges, conquering these as if she were a modern-day Liszt herself.


One might already possess the famous Beethoven-Liszt recordings by Glenn Gould (Sony), Cyprien Katsaris (Warner) or Konstantin Scherbakov (Naxos), but this highly personal take by Rodrigues provides different lenses to view the warhorse, and is a compelling one at that.  


You may sample / purchase this CD at:

ÆTERNUM – Navona Records 

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