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CD Review

Johann Sebastian Bach

Keyboard Concertos

  • Concerto for Keyboard in A Major, BWV 1055 1
  • Concerto for Keyboard in F minor, BWV 1056 2
  • Concerto for 2 Keyboards in C minor, BWV 1060 1,2
  • Concerto for 2 Keyboards in C Major, BWV 1061 1,2
1 Jörg Demus, piano
2 Paul Badura-Skoda, piano
Vienna State Opera Orchestra/Kurt Redel
ReDiscovery RD-155 ADD 54:01

Here, thanks to this ReDiscovery reissue, we hear not one but two expert Baroque and Classical stylists. Wait a minute … I called them "expert stylists" when they are playing Bach on a piano? What gives? Well, once upon a time it was completely acceptable to play Bach's music on the piano, but that didn't mean that one played it as if it were Chopin or Debussy. Early in his career, Joerg (or better, Jörg) Demus developed an interest in historical performance practice – an interest which informs these recordings – as well as in historical instruments. Paul Badura-Skoda, a little more than one year his senior, had similar interests, so it seems inevitable that the two Austrian pianists would at some point work together. (It helped that they both recorded for the Westminster label.) In addition to the two double concertos presented here, Demus and Badura-Skoda also collaboratively played and recorded works by Mozart and Schubert. They also co-authored a book about Beethoven's piano sonatas.

These recordings first saw light of day in the late 1950s or early 1960s – they are in true stereo. ReDiscovery's David Gideon has worked wonders on the original LPs: apart from a little congestion or discoloration in louder passages, and a little rumble during pauses, the sound is clear, warm, and enjoyable. The balance between the piano(s) and the orchestra was handled well by the original engineering team, and of course that is maintained here.

As for the performances, they have both the warmth and the weight one would expect from their middle-European origins. Not for Demus, nor for Badura-Skoda, the sometimes exaggerated articulation of Glenn Gould. Slow movements really sing, and the outer movements burst with masculine energy, and are almost larger than life. Together, the two pianists play off one another. In the slow movements of the double concertos, Demus and Badura-Skoda are given an orchestral accompaniment so slender it nearly disappears. These movements are played with a gentle lilt and seem almost to dance – a quality often absent in modern performances of Baroque music. Both pianists maintain their objectivity without emotionally distancing themselves from the music. Conductor Kurt Redel (also a famed flutist), while keeping the proceedings under control, never allows the music's spontaneity to fade. The more you play these performances, the more enjoyable they become.

This CD-R is available through for $12, or for $4, if you prefer an mp3 download. As with most ReDiscovery releases, booklet notes are minimal, but since these discs are intended primarily for collectors, that hardly matters.

Copyright © 2010, Raymond Tuttle.