American pianist Andrew Rangell is idiosyncratic but never dull or unmusical. In his earlier years he sometimes whistled the optional flute part in the last movement of Ives' Piano Sonata No. 2 ("Concord"). For the U.S. Steinway & Sons imprint he has recorded a group of Bach's landmark works, and your reaction is likely to depend on how you feel about highly pianistic Bach in general; Rangell indulges at will in free tempos, pedal, and considerable dynamic range, the last two of which were unavailable to Bach. That said, if your attention has ever been piqued by this artist, The Art of the Fugue may be a good place to start. After all, no "authentic" performance of this work is possible; Bach wrote the work in open score, with no indication of instrumentation. Why he did so is a matter of ongoing debate, but perhaps in this, his swan song, he wanted to point to secrets in his work that only the future could discover. And Rangell does find a great many intriguing details in this giant piece that is at once a treatise on the fugue and a set of variations. Little fragments of the theme show up in places you may have never heard them, and Rangell seems especially attuned to the role cadences play in anchoring the versions of the fugue to its origin. Again, you could argue that the pianist is introducing structural details that were in no way part of the work's conception. But heavy as his interpretation may be, it's not ponderous, and there's a sense of both joy and of deep passionate involvement. Rangell's performance, which he produced himself, was recorded at the new Shalin Liu Performance Center on the northeast Massachusetts seacoast, and it reflects the high engineering values of Steinway & Sons thus far.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|The Art of Fugue|