The New York Pops: Piotr Anderszewski
A well-know journalist once said that "trying to be a first-rate reporter on the average American newspaper is like trying to play Bach’s St. Matthew Passion on a ukulele: The instrument is too crude for the work, for the audience and for the performer."
I suppose that the same principle applies to being a critic for a website. So I would ask readers their forbearance in regard to my take on heralded pianist Piotr Anderszewski’s performance of four Bach suites at Carnegie Hall this past week.
It’s not easy to explain why the performance was so special.
We do not even, after all, have much idea of what J.S. Bach himself would have made of the concert. For Bach did not, of course, write any music for the piano as it was not yet invented during his lifetime.
Moreover, we have only a vague idea of how the composer would have wished his music to be played on the harpsichord or what he would have thought about performing it on a modern concert grand. And tempi, temperament and pitch of the different notes have all changed over the nearly three centuries since he wrote his keyboard suites.
Glenn Gould first approached these problem by using a specially retrofitted piano that could be played as fleetly as a harpsichord. Others have chosen to treat the piece’s dance markings (gigue, gavotte, etc.) as literally as possible. By contrast, some others have played the pieces with an exceptionally languid style, performing Bach with such a deliberate and unrhythmic pace that one might think the composer was Debussy.
So each performer today is making a series of wild assumptions about Bach’s music and hugely debatable choices the moment he strikes a note, and each critic is simply asserting his prejudices about the music in setting forward praise or censure.