I just had to share my latest discovery.
I've been on a bituva JSB roll of late, specifically diving into some of his solo keyboard music and with a focus on some of the less well known performers. There are some really superb performances out there, many by artists, old and new, I that hadn't come across before. It's been fun to make the acquaintance of pianists like Anderszewski, Fray, Kuschnerova, Pogolerich, Svanberg, Tillner and Tomsic.
However my biggest surprise has been a pianist I thought I was reasonably familiar with, but had never associated with Bach, in fact I'm ashamed to admit that I wasn't even aware she'd recorded any. However this:
...disc by Martha Argerich stopped me in my tracks. It is quite simply one of the most incredible Bach recordings I have ever heard. Ms Argerich's virtuosity was no surprise to me (I have long admired her romantic work, as exemplified by her outstanding Rach 3), however her sensitivity for Bach has left me stunned. That she has recorded so little seems criminal in retrospect.
Her approach is direct and percussive with an amazing grasp of the complex relationship between tempo and rhythm that pervades Bach. The slow movements are serenely beautiful and the dance movements are propelled forwards with exuberant energy. This is Bach that swings like a sonofabitch, if it doesn't have you foot-tapping nothing will. Comparing the Gigue of Argerich's English Suite No. 2, BWV 807 (mp3 download here) with, for instance, Angela Hewitt's one could be forgiven for thinking that the latter had lost the musical plot slightly. Her use of rubato seems to dissolve the essential rhythmic framework of the piece and at times the musical threads seem to unravel to the point where one almost feels she has lost her place on the page. I should point out that I admire much of Ms Hewitt's work and that the above only becomes apparent listening back-to-back with the Argerich.
One aspect that struck me is that I don't think I have ever been so consciously aware of an artist being in a state of flow before. The sense of concentration in the aforementioned Gigue is so palpable, so totally immersive, it seems almost zen-like. It really is an extraordinary effect.
The 1979 DG recording is good, if not demonstration quality, with a very dry acoustic, although whether this was the result of a close-miked piano or some post-processing trickery is not clear to me. By comparison the highly reverberant acoustic of the Hyperion recording makes the piano sound quite woolly.
Anyway, five strutses straight off the bat. If you enjoy Bach solo piano you really owe it to yourself to sample this fabulous disc.