Title - 'Johann Sebastian Bach Piano & Reworks'
Artist - Víkingur Ólafsson
For those not in the know, possessing a rare combination of passionate musicality, explosive virtuosity and intellectual curiosity, Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson has won all the major prizes in his native country, including four Musician of the Year prizes at the Icelandic Music Awards as well as The Icelandic Optimism Prize.
His latest release, an incredible 2CD album (released November 1st, 2019 via Deutsche Grammophon), combines the original Bach album, a collection of both well-known and rarely performed pieces by the famous Baroque composer, including transcriptions by Busconi, Rachmaninov, Siloti, and Víkingur himself; and Bach Reworks, an album of new arrangements of Víkingur's Bach transcriptions from electronic artists such as Valgeir Sigurđsson and Ben Frost, Peter Gregson, and Ryuichi Sakamoto.
In truth, and having listened to these two discs back-to-back now three times over, it's the overall curation of the pieces that is matched only by his musicality and technical skills.
Sure we live in a world that has hardly been deprived of a steady unveiling of Bach recordings, but here on Works & Reworks, it's plainly clear that Víkingur has done his best to re-educate us.
With no piece longer than five to six minutes, and with a handful under a minute, the collection feels aerated and accessible, leaning itself more toward the mind of those with attention deficit.
Indeed, not since Wilhelm Kempff's recording of works by Bach in the 1950s have I gotten so much out of Bach's music (for keyboard) on repeated listening.
This Icelandic genius has marvelous fingers and a feeling for Bach, of that there is no arguing. And thus if his interpretation of the Fantasy and Fugue in A minor does not attain the level of Edwin Fisher's, for instance, you could hardly ask for more in the other works on the first disc, trust me.
The Reworks disc allows Víkingur to rethink his Bach approach and take things to an even more contemporary space. Thus allowing a fine musical blend of his own award-winning recordings with electronic music to continue onward within his musical love.
Featuring musicians and composers such as Ryuichi Sakamoto, Ben Frost, Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Hildur Guđnadóttir, admittedly this isn't my favorite collection of works by Víkingur - a few tracks are full of invasive electronic, and at times unidentified noises that use the full mechanism of the piano via a fuzz bass - but it is still an adventurous, and adeptly spirited culling of Bach, that's for sure.
Amazon CD Purchase Link
Víkingur Ólafsson @ Facebook