Ukrainian-born pianist Konstantin Lifschitz has been a militant in the struggle to claim Bach's music for pianists, insisting that his role is that of an "interpreter" despite having applied such wholesale Romantic concepts in the past as designating the two books of the Well-Tempered Clavier as "Songs of Innocence" and "Songs of Experience," respectively, and then alternating between the two in concert. Here he goes farther than ever. The packaging of this German release claims that the disc respresents Bach's Musical Offering, BWV 1079, "for the first time complete on a modern concert grand." That's not a surprise, for the trio sonata included in the work is an ensemble piece for flute, violin, and continuo, specifically tailored to the flute playing Frederick the Great of Prussia, the work's dedicatee and the provider of the chromatic theme that furnishes the basis for the whole set of pieces. The ricercars and canons have been played on a piano many times before, and Lifschitz's competent but middle-of-the-road interpretation adds little to the dialogue. Nor does his justification for treating the Musical Offering as a keyboard work: Bach did, in all likelihood, hear the new fortepiano for the first time at his 1747 meeting with Frederick, but it's quite a leap from that fact to the idea that Bach worked out the Musical Offering at the piano, or that his style was fundamentally altered by the new instrument -- and in any case, the story would furnish an argument for playing the work on a fortepiano, not a concert grand. The piano isn't really the issue -- the work, except for the trio sonata, was published in open score and seems to invite the kinds of elaboration to which it has historically been subjected. The problem is a certain mushiness that seems to pervade Lifschitz's presentation -- topped off by the astonishing claim (it's not clear whose) that the keyboard style of Frescobaldi, three of whose toccatas close out the program, "is as genuinely pianistic as that of Chopin and Scriabin." Those who want to hear Bach on the piano have other places, even those in distant orbits, to go; the Goldberg Variations disc by German pianist Burkard Schliessmann would be one.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|The Musical Offering (Musikalisches Opfer), for keyboard and chamber instruments, BWV 1079|
|Prelude and Fugue, for organ in E flat major ("St. Anne;" Clavier-Übung III/26), BWV 552 (BC J16)|
|Il secondo libro de toccate, canzone...di cimbalo et organo, No.2, Toccata Seconda in G minor|
Il secondo libro de toccate, canzone...di cimbalo et organo, No.5, Quinta Toccata sopra i pedali per l'organo, e senza in G major