German pianist Burkard Schliessmann is a many-sided individual. The native of Aschaffenburg, Bavaria is highly intuitive in his approach to the music he plays. A graduate of the Frankfurt University of Music and Performing Arts, he is also a keen student of philosophy and photography. Further, he is a professional scuba diver and is an ambassador for the Protecting of Our Ocean Planet program of Project AWARE. He is said to experience the phenomenon of Synesthesia, allowing him to incorporate the colors of the underwater world into his musical interpretations.
“Synesthesia”? It could be. Certainly, occasional exposure to “rapture of the deep,” which produces a feeling of tranquility and mastery of the environment, can’t hurt where the music of J.S. Bach is concerned. (Scuba divers, please, I’m just kidding!) Bach united the formal, expressive and spiritual elements of keyboard music as no one had done before his time (or maybe since, though we mustn’t forget Chopin!) A spontaneous artist, Schliessmann always invites a few friends to his recording sessions to provide an audience with whom he can communicate. “Giving back” to his audience is something he finds very stimulating. “I don’t want to be conceited,” he has repeatedly said, “but it’s a fact that piano and player have to blend into one.”
All of these things inform Schliessmann’s Bach interpretations, as heard on the present program. His Partita No. 2 in C minor is as florid and poetic as it is colorful. The awkward moments when voicing embellishments that I noticed in his earlier account of this same work on MSR Classics in 2008 have been smoothed over here and are better incorporated into the flow of the music without interrupting the rhythm. No easy task, that! This particular partita is the most popular of the set of six with performers and audiences alike, thanks to its attractive mix of light and learned elements. It begins with a Sinfonia marked by a depth of expression, which is tempered by a soothing theme in the second section. Deftly applied counterpoint and rhythmic subtlety help create a lighter mood in the third. A rather more serious than customary Allemande and a graceful Courante are followed by a slow Sarabande, solemn but with a balm of soothing consolation. In place of the expected Menuetto and Gigue, Bach substitutes a spirited Rondeau and a playful Capriccio. Both have tricky rhythms that are challenging for the performer. Schliessmann surmounts all difficulties with zestful virtuosity.
The Italian Concerto was Bach’s nod to Italy and the ritornello style of Vivaldi. It is in three movements, the lively outer ones framing the Andante, a meltingly florid arioso-like movement whose concurrent mood of pathos and florid embellishments make a definite impression on the listener. Schliessmann handles the textures of this work, in which Bach imitates the roles of different groups of instruments, to perfection. (This effect, it should be noted, is easier to execute on the two-manual harpsichord that Bach had in mind than on a modern piano such as Schliessmann’s Steinway D, a fact that has not deterred pianists from being utterly fascinated with the Italian Concerto.)
Two Fantasias and Fugues, in A minor, BWV 904 and C minor, BWV 906, follow next in the program. Both are given performances here that manifest their improvisatory nature. The latter features an Adagio originally written for violin and harpsichord and skillfully interpolated by Bach to add to the expressive beauty of the piece and whet the listener’s interest by delaying the expected fugal resolution.
In the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue, Schliessmann relishes the abundant chromaticism resulting from Bach’s demand for wildly flowing arpeggiations and recitative-like passagework in the first part, followed by the relatively lean counterpoint of the fugue for a contrast. The fugue in particular requires this performer’s strong, supple fingers to articulate it as cleanly as he does here. Schliessmann injects a healthy amount of exuberance into the music, which makes this ever-popular work ideal for closing the program.
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