Rafał Blechacz: Johann Sebastian Bach
The Polish pianist Rafał Blechacz, particularly lauded for his Chopin interpretations, now turns to Bach, a composer with whom he has enjoyed a long association, having studied organ as well as piano in his younger days. It’s a strikingly personal programme and he launches it with an account of the Italian Concerto that exudes confidence from the off, revelling in contrasts of dynamics and Bach’s punchy counterpoint. Tharaud is rather more elegant here, though Blechacz is beautifully refined in the central Andante, while his finale has an infectious one-in-a-bar verve.
The Fantasia and Fugue in A minor is impressive too, the latter a dazzling affair, not least for Blechacz’s sheer control over the textures at quiet dynamics. I found the Four Duets less successful: while he delights in the angularity of the Second, it’s not the most subtle of readings; the Third is a bit short on joy; and as a set they sound just a touch didactic.
He is patently a pianist who enjoys Bach’s extremes – the closing Gigue of the First Partita is as fleet as Anderszewski’s but it’s relatively monochrome alongside his compatriot’s feeling for light and shade. The Sarabande, on the other hand, is wonderfully confiding and unerringly paced. And his way with Bach’s counterpoint is unfailingly imaginative – notably in the opening Fantasia of the Third Partita and its brief Scherzo. The concluding Gigue is, in Blechacz’s hands, a big and muscly affair. Goode, at a similar speed, is more refined, while Anderszewski does something extraordinary here: taking it surprisingly slowly, he turns it into a sombre, inward lament, which seems perverse on paper but actually proves very effective.
Blechacz ends with Jesu, joy in the Hess arrangement. He is suitably soulful but I fear that his reading pales besides the classics of Hess herself (from 1928 onwards) and, of course, Lipatti (variously available).