Archive for March, 2004

J. S. Bach: Piano Concertos – Claudio Dauelsberg


J.S. Bach
Pianist: Cláudio Dauelsberg
Moscow Chamber Orchestra
Conductor: Constantine Orbelian
Recorded in Moscow March 2003

You don’t like Bach?
I remember my astonishment when I was about 18, when somebody told me “I don’t like Bach”. How is that possible, I wondered, when his music is so interesting, so inventive, with lovely expressive passages, and fine climaxes? The answer: “it all sounds the same – doesn’t have any melody….I find it dull”.

As the years passed, I came to understand better both these points of view. On the one hand, some of Bach may be considered little inspired – remembering that he was faced with an enormous demand to produce new music every week, it is not surprising that sometimes the music seems to reflect the form, but miss the spark which captures the attention.

But on the other hand, if inspired writing is helped by good interpretation, one can begin to understand the reverence of many musicians for the music of J.S. Bach. Writing within a style that is very restricted compared with what we know today, for instruments we can also think of as primitive, he managed to come up with constant innovations – in the form of his melodies, in the harmonies, in the combination of voices and instruments – while obeying the form to perfection. Some progressions of harmonies which can be considered daring today are right there in Bach; the way his bass line moves in counterpoint to the melody can hardly be bettered, and he achieves dramatic climax not through massed brass and thunderous chords, but by drawing together the lines of what was going on until they are all joined together and re-emphasized in a new way. (Listen to the end of a prelude and fugue for organ). But underlying all this, and particularly in his masterworks – considered by many to be the St. Matthew Passion and the Mass in B minor – there is a deep sense of faith in God, brought by the surety of expression and the profundity of the emotion. These works are monuments to the possibilities of musical composition.

So….you still don’t like Bach?

A surprise
One morning, my attention was caught by Radio MEC (FM 98.9) – they were playing a concerto for piano and orchestra by Bach: the piano was sure, precise, the orchestra light and melodious…. the rhythm absolutely steady, gathering a delicious momentum….the fast finger runs on the piano slotted in perfectly….strong passages giving way to light delicate phrases without losing the impetus….this is great – who can it be? The announcer: “Pianista Cláudio Dauelsberg com a Orquestra de Câmara de Moscou”. Could that possibly be a Brazilian pianist from the carioca Dauelsberg family?

Well – it is. Listening to this recording again and again, I just like it more – it seems perfectly in accord with what I think Bach should be: stylistically exact, no exaggerations, neither too much nor too little musical expression; a fine sense of rhythm; beautiful coordination with the orchestra. The slow passages are delicately moving without being overemotional. In short, if you don’t like Bach, this is a good CD to try. If you do, see if you agree!

Going to , you can get to more details about the pianist, and hear a selection from his recordings after downloading the mp3 file. Going to his site,, you can find more details and buy the records. He is a professor at UFRJ, and plays MPB and jazz as well as classical.

The recording
His CD “J. S. Bach” has two Concertos for piano and orchestra, described as in D minor BWV 1052 (which has a fun third movement) and in F minor BWV 1056 (where the slow movement is lovely, without orchestra until right at the end). For piano solo, there is the toccata in E minor BWV 914 (with an exciting fugue, beautifully played) and two preludes and fugues (5 and 6) from the “Well-tempered Clavichord”. (There is as far as I know, no bad-tempered clavichord, because in this case the ‘tempering’ refers to the tuning, which allows the musical scale to sound the same in any key. This is the standard today, but was still a novelty in Bach’s time). These preludes and fugues are well-known to pianists, as the easier ones come into the advanced learner’s repertoire. However, they present peculiar difficulties, because in the fugues, the theme is played now in the high part of the right hand, then in the left, then in the lower part of the right hand, then somewhere else – while it should stand out with an emphasis appropriate to the context. To bring variety, the pianist’s touch should vary, sometimes light and skipping, sometimes strong and rhythmic, sometimes delicate. This ends up meaning that the pianist has to be able to play with difference emphasis and touch with different fingers on the same hand, at the same time. Sounds easy? Not in the least. Even great concert pianists for classical and romantic composers find it difficult to play in this way, and so many pianists who play Bach are specialists, and are renowned for just that.

But difficulties of execution are unsuspected when listening to Dauelsberg’s disk. He shows perfect appropriateness of style, allied with a technical domination that makes it sound easy, while the precision of rhythm and the change of touches makes the music just about as interesting as it can be.

Good listening!

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