Tears from Babylon

J. S. Bach: Piano Transcriptions
Alexandra Papastefanou
FHR 141

This is an unlikely CD to come my way, and I would not normally think myself qualified to make any comment on the style and performance of such an unashamedly pianistic collection. But Alexandra Papastefanou is a celebrated Greek pianist and takes her jumping off point from the well-known and popular transcription by Dame Myra Hess of the cantata movement from BWV 147 known as ‘Jesu, joy of man’s desiring’, with which this CD ends.

But Papastefanou’s skill is shown by the opening two tracks – transcriptions of the first two movements of the Trio Sonata for organ BWV 529 – in which she demonstrates not only her technique as a performer, but also as an arranger. The majority of her CD is given to arrangements of cantata movements, but there are also versions of the chorale preludes BWV 711 and 653. BVW comes off well where the instrumental obligato part dovetails with the alto vocal line in a way that is reminiscent of Bach’s own arrangement of BWV 6.iii as the fifth of the Schübler Chorales for organ. It was nice to hear a version of the Chorale in BWV 22.iv that formed another of the older favourite transcriptions along with ‘Jesu, joy of man’s desiring’ that sat on my childhood piano.

If you like piano transcriptions of Bach’s music – and many listeners to Radio 3’s ‘Bach before Seven’ seem to – then you will enjoy this collection.

David Stancliffe

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