Bach Crossings, a first release for DUO Stephanie and Saar on New Focus Recordings, is a crossing of paths, crossing of minds and inspirations. The music of Johann Sebastian Bach, the monolith of Western music, is recast and given new light by one of the most creative living composers of our time, György Kurtág. DUO Stephanie and Saar, the collaboration of pianists Stephanie Kai-Win Ho and Saar Ahuvia, have been acclaimed for their versatility and intellectual curiosity. Since teaming up at Baltimore’s Peabody Institute, the couple has been exploring the wide and often unconventional duo repertoire, with music ranging from Machaut to Messiaen, from Mozart to George Crumb and Bill Evans.
Bach Crossings is born out of a desire for exploration. Stephanie notes in the British publication International Piano Magazine, “The most amazing thing about the Kurtág transcriptions is that they are from Bach’s cantatas [and organ works], which most solo pianists don’t know that well. We feel that Bach’s solo keyboard works are very different from his choral works… [they] are pedagogical and virtuosic. Kurtág’s transcriptions are very spiritual; you get a sense of that seriousness and darkness and a whole new kind of Bach, very enlightened, a kind of Man of God you don’t hear in the preludes and fugues, which are so technique-driven, so hard to play.”
The title of the album also alludes to the difficult hand crossings that Kurtág requires the performers to implement in his four hand transcriptions, as demonstrated on track one, Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit from Cantata BWV 106, where the melody is played entirely with the arms crossed. The whimsical configuration of hand crossings in Gott, durch deine Güte, BWV 600 is visualized in the cover photo of the album. Of the fourteen Bach transcriptions represented here, three are by other important Bach transcribers: Franz Xaver Gleichauf and Max Reger, who represent a crossing of various approaches to Bach transcribing over the last two centuries. Two delightful “encores”, correntes by Girolamo Frescobaldi transcribed by Kurtág, pay homage to one of Bach’s sources of inspiration.
"These well-matched artists found considerable expressive depth in Kurtág’s version of the Sonatina…The rapport between Ho and Ahuvia was readily apparent throughout their portion of the program; their music- making placed added value on elegance and subtlety” – The Baltimore Sun
“The duo gave beautifully understated performances” – The New York Times
Transcriptions of works of J.S. Bach for piano four hands by Gyorgy Kurtag, F.X. Gleichauf, and Max Reger.
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
1. Gottes Zeit ist de allerbeste Zeit: Sonatina, BWV 106
2. Nun komm' der Heiden Heiland, BWV 599
3. Allein Gott in der Hoh' sei Ehr, BWV 711
4. Dies sind die heilgen zehn Gebot', BWV 635
5. Pastorale in F Major, BWV 590
6. Herr Christ, der ein'ge Gottes-Sohn, BWV 601
7. Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir, BWV 687
8. Gott, durch deine Gute, BWV 600
9. Christe, du Lamm Gottes, BWV 619
10. Alle Menschen mussen sterben, BWV 643
11. Das alte Jahr vergangen ist, BWV 614
12. Gavottes I & II from Orchestral Suite no. 3 in D Major, BWV 1068
13. O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig, BWV deest
14. Nun komm' der Heiden Heiland, BWV 599
15. Prelude and Fugue in C Major, BWV 545
Bonus Tracks: Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643)
16. Corrente IV
17. Corrente III
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