Pianist Alessio Bax

Featured Audio

Alessio Bax plays Beethoven
Signum Classics (SIGCD 397)
Tracks:
Beethoven: Sonata No. 29 in B-flat Major, Op. 106 “Hammerklavier”
Beethoven: Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp Minor, Op. 27, No. 2 “Moonlight”
Beethoven/arr. Bax: "Turkish March" and "Chorus of the Whirling Dervishes" from The Ruins of Athens

The young New York-based Italian pianist writes eloquently in the CD notes about his passion for this repertoire, and its profound musical effect. Of the “Hammerklavier” he says, “It is, with no fear of exaggeration, one of the great achievements of humankind. It is Everest for a pianist. I have lived with this work for nearly twenty years now and it has singlehandedly deepened my knowledge of Beethoven, piano technique and music.” In the notes he also incisively analyses the structure of the work and goes on to describe its challenges: “Because it is such a demanding piece, it enables me to work simultaneously on its intellectual and pianistic aspects – and more importantly on the tools to make it accessible to an audience.”

Further demonstrating his intellectual and pianistic curiosity, Bax has established a tradition, rare among pianists, of including his own transcriptions on his CDs, something he did with previous releases of Rachmaninov, Brahms and Bach. Here he offers arrangements of the “Turkish March” and “Chorus of the Whirling Dervishes” from The Ruins of Athens, Op.113, incidental music Beethoven wrote in 1811 for a play of that name by August von Kotzebue. The “Turkish March” is well known, but the “Chorus of the Whirling Dervishes” is rarely heard, and Bax is a keen advocate for the piece. He notes, “I transcribed two enticing works from The Ruins of Athens, Op.113: the famous ‘Turkish March,’ where I have tried to bring out the lightness and exoticism of the original score, and the lesser known, but stunningly evocative, ‘Chorus of the Whirling Dervishes.’”

In recital, Bax’s Beethoven has received excellent reviews. Reviewing a performance of the “Hammerklavier” − paired with Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition − at the Music@Menlo festival in May 2014, Ken Iisaka from San Francisco Classical Voice wrote, “Rarely do you hear a pianist play two monumental, exhausting works back-to-back in one concert. Alessio Bax proved he had the chops, youthful stamina, and artistic insight for it.” Iisaka also praised Bax’s combination of discipline and imagination, so important to bring off the musical challenges of Beethoven’s masterpiece: “From the triumphant opening, announcing the arrival, to the finger-busting counterpoints of the fugue in the last movement, there was a granite-like discipline that permeated throughout. It was not that the rhythm was robotic or mechanical at all. Rather, the presence of pulse was well defined, to give the music a solid framework. Such rigor helped maintain the cohesiveness of the lengthy Adagio movement, and the blazing depiction of the fugue in the last movement, with crystal clear thematic elements and contrasting counterpoints. The momentum helped carry the fugue to its explosive and victorious end.”

Beethoven is a natural next step for Bax, who in recent years has recorded Mozart (2013), Brahms (2012), Rachmaninov (2011) and Bach (2009), all to great critical acclaim. Of his Brahms CD, Colin Clarke of International Piano wrote: "Italian pianist Alessio Bax, winner of the 2000 Leeds International Piano Competition, is a player of refreshing depth. In the age of the hyper-virtuoso, Bax presents a Brahms recital that aims to show the contrasting sides of the composer's piano music, from the autumnally ruminative to the overtly virtuosic." Classic FM wrote of his 2013 Mozart release: “Bax and the Southbank Sinfonia bring a new lease of life to these concertos, making the most of the clean lines as well as the cheekier moments hidden within the score. The result is youthful, beautiful music, peppered with Mozart's trademark tunes.”

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