Ashley Wass / Ron Abramski

Bach to the Future

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Bach to the Future Review

by James Manheim

British pianist Ashley Wass is of the modern persuasian, quoting Bob Dylan dropping the F-bomb in the booklet as well as musing on the fashionability of Crocs. It's all in service of a program that is not what it seems to be at first (a program of Bach's music), and also not what it purports to be (an examination of Bach's influence). Some of the music seems to gain from being viewed through a Bachian lens; Beethoven's Six Bagatelles, Op. 126, for example, have an ability to use conventional material in a completely free way that might easily have come at some level from Beethoven's engagement with Bach. And Wass turns in creditable performances of Bach arrangements and reworkings by Busoni and György Kurtág. But for the other main attractions, it seems as though all Wass needs to consider a work in Bach's orbit is that it include a fugue or at least a good deal of counterpoint. This is wide enough to include dozens of the major keyboard works of the 20th century, including the Piano Sonata, Op. 1, of Alban Berg and the Piano Sonata in E flat major, Op. 26, of Samuel Barber heard here. They are similarly intense works, but it turns out that what links them and the other items on the program is not really Bach but their connection with Wass' own musical autobiography. That's all well and good, but the result is a somewhat muddled recital without any compelling overarching logic.

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