Classical CD Reviews

New classical music releases reviewed in detail by Gavin Dixon

Thursday, 21 October 2021

BACH 21 Elisaveta Blumina

 BACH Fantasie in c, BWV 906. French Suite No. 6 in E, BWV 817. English Suite No. 6 in d, BWV 811

MDG 904 2232-6 (SACD: 71:39)


This is a very personal recital for pianist Elisaveta Blumina. In her liner notes, she explains that her associations with each of these works comes down to colors and keys—so a synesthesia. In fact, Blumina is an artist herself, and her paintings are reproduced, in vivid color, in the liner. Blumina recounts that when she began working on the French Suite No. 6—crucially, in E Major—she began “quite unconsciously, painting pictures in predominantly yellow tones.” Clearly, then the keys of the works presented here are as important as their background, and Blumina goes to some lengths in her discussion of the French and English Suites to distance them from those national associations.

Blumina is Russian born and trained (St. Petersburg Conservatory), so we can naturally expect to hear lots of Russian technique here. And right enough, Blumina’s touch is very focused and decisive. But her articulation is less emphatic than we might expect, a product, perhaps, of her desire to bring out the color of this music. Her counterpoint is clear and focused, and her voice-leading benefits from a lyrical, legato touch. But she doesn’t emphasize thematic entries, so much as weave them seamlessly into the texture. It is an attractive approach, and one that creates continuity across individual movements. Occasionally, Blumina employs that large-scale thinking to dramatic effect, as in the Gigue from the English Suite No. 6, which builds to an impressive climax to close the program. But elsewhere, she is happy to enjoy the moment and not push the music on, as in her delicate and inquisitive reading of the Sarabande from the same suite.

Despite that coloristic approach, tempos are usually brisk. The Courante from the French Suite No. 6, for example, is fleet, carried by impressively crisp counterpoint. And even when tempos are fast, there is never any sense of rushing. The opening Fantasie in C Minor gets the recital off to a bracing start, but the textures are characterized more by delicate, legato passagework than heavy accents.

In the spectrum of Bach performance, this is clearly modern piano playing, with no obvious concessions to the music’s harpsichord origins or to the HIP movement. Even so, it is performed on a historical instrument, a 1901 Steinway at the Marienmünster Abbey near Hanover. From its condition, you would never guess its age. But the tone is rounder and softer than a modern Steinway, especially in the mid-range. There is less bass presence too, although the sound engineering ensures a good balance for all voices. The recording was made in the concert hall within the Abbey grounds, and the sound is resonant and spacious. The surround mix spreads the piano sound broadly across the front speakers for an impressively immersive experience.

A very personal take on Bach, then. Unless you share Blumina’s synesthesia, the associations and contrasts that she discusses might pass you by. But, by including her own paintings, we are offered a glimpse of how this inspires her interpretations. Attractive, vivacious playing, captured in excellent sound, and with impressive production values all round.

This review appears in Fanfare magazine issue 45:3.

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