In a Wigmore recital that lasted 2½ hours, this young Russian pianist delivered the preludes and fugues from Book I of J.S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier (1722), in all the major and minor keys. It may seem churlish to say I would rather have heard him in other parts of his wide repertoire – Beethoven, say, and the usual Russian and European Romantic works for solo piano. Only a few pianists can adapt to playing Bach’s clavichord pieces convincingly on a modern grand.
Unlike the piano, clavichords and harpsichords have a sharply restricted dynamic range; the player’s touch and an acute rhythmic sense (particularly for cunning rubato and sprung rhythms) must compensate for that – unless he or she is performing an adaptation for the pianoforte, so named because it could play both soft and loud. Here, with the original score, they sometimes did, sometimes not. Notable successes were Lifschitz’s bubbly, excited C-sharp major prelude, his “romantically” pedalled C-sharp minor one, his amiable, unforced account of the E-flat major three-part fugue and the seriously dark, tragic prelude in E-flat minor, on a Lutheran chorale.
If my ears weren’t deceived, he held the “soft” pedal down throughout; I have no objection to that, although the effect was decidedly theatrical. The bright, busy E major fugue was delightful, as also the G major prelude and its fugue.
Not so successful were the E major and B minor preludes, or the F minor fugue – grimly clear, but also pedestrian – or the closing B minor one, which sounded both over-pedalled and under-practised. All in all, the performance was a slightly bosh shot at a great sequence to which, in due course, Lifschitz will do much better justice.
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