Monday, May 30, 2011

Wanda Landowska

There has not been a Bach player in the recorded area, not even Glenn Gould, who played Bach with the daring or the nobility of Wanda Landowska. Gould's Bach was virtuosity personified (in the best sense), with all the elegance of a great mind studying a great mind. Landowska's Bach was Bach as perhaps he'd like to see himself. The 'harpsichord' on which she played Bach was as authentic a harpsichord as a Stratocaster is an authentic guitar for folk music. Her harpsichord was so rich with dynamics and overtones that it was often redolent of all Bach's favorite instruments: it resonated like an organ, it sang like a choir, it thundered like a baroque orchestra, and it danced like ...well....a harpsichord. But a great instrument alone (and there was no instrument more miraculous than Landowska's harpsichord) does not make for great Bach, it needs a player of incredible sensitivity and technique to capture all the nuances of which it's capable, and a player of enormous daring to even attempt something so orignal.

By today's standards, this sounds thrillingly old-fashioned. It's almost completely unlike any harpsichord Bach would have recognized. By the standards of her own day, Landowska's Bach was ferociously authentic. How many had ever thought it important to hear Bach's music on the instrument for which it was written. Landowska's Bach came upon music lovers with an explosive force of revelation that not even Glenn Gould could equal later. She was the keyboardist who opened the music-world to how incredibly vast Bach's music could be. Eighty years after her prime, there is still not a Bach player to equal her.

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