Víkingur Ólafsson, referred to as ‘Iceland’s Glenn Gould’, plays Bach - a collection of both well-known and rarely performed pieces by the famous Baroque composer, including reworks by Bach of pieces from Vivaldi and Busoni as well as Ólafsson’s own transcriptions of Bach chorales.
Free spirit Víkingur Ólafsson has stated “It would all mean nothing without Bach, If Philip Glass’s music is minimal, then Bach’s is maximal!” Having studied his music intensively, he here casts new light on some of the composer’s many different faces. Excerpts from the Well-Tempered Clavier such as the Prelude and Fugue in E minor, BWV 855 or contrapuntal gems such as the Sinfonia No. 15 in B minor, BWV 801 showcase him as, in Ólafsson’s words, “the master of the short story”, while the larger-scale but playful Aria variata, BWV 989 forms the structural heart of the album. The original works are juxtaposed with colourful contributions from other composers, including Rachmaninov’s arrangement of the Gavotte from the Partita No. 3 for Violin in E major, BWV 1006; Busoni’s transcription of the chorale “Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ”; and Ólafsson’s own mesmerising transcription of the first aria from the solo cantata for alto “Widerstehe doch der Sünde”. As his Glass album demonstrated, the pianist is an intelligent and innovative sculptor of sound, an artist who defies conventional categorisation and is redefining classical music. On Bach, the 34-year-old’s lean but immensely expressive playing captivates listeners, his eloquence and the sensuous delight he takes in experimentation holding them spellbound. “Everything is there in Johann Sebastian’s music: architectural perfection and profound emotion,” says Ólafsson. In his hands, the universe that is Bach shines with new light.
Víkingur Ólafsson’s upcoming season includes performances with the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Esa-Pekka Salonen, a concert series with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra under Yan Pascal Tortelier, and his solo recital debuts at Vienna’s Konzerthaus and Hamburg’s newly inaugurated Elbphilharmonie.
Stunning on so many levels, this recording is satisfying to the listener and to critics alike and is likely to garner many awards. This is a very special Recording. Grady Harp, September 18
This is a stunning collection of Bach piano playing. The program, which consists of familiar and unfamiliar Bach originals and transcriptions, is uncommonly interesting. The pieces are rendered with astonishing clarity and emotional impact, while avoiding overt romantic gestures. In many passages, Olafsson out-does Gould in making the different musical lines sing independently and together. Someone once said that Gould's performance is akin to putting Bach through an X-ray machine. To use a more modern analogy, I think of Olafsson as projecting the music through a functional MRI, revealing not only its intricate details, but also its full emotional potential, from the pensive melancholy in Aria variata to the joyful abandon in Nun freut euch. I have heard and enjoyed many great and different Bach playing, from Perahia, Schiff, Tureck in the past, to more recently Tharaud and Rana. Even among these great comparisons, I think of this new collection from Olafsson as the most interesting and dazzling take on Bach I have come across in a very long time.