Luisa Imorde’s “Moon Rainbow”

Imorde - Bach, Kapustin

J.S. BACH: Keyboard Concerto in D, BWV 974. Pastorella in F: II. Andante cantabile (arr. Lipatti). Toccata in e min., BWV 914. Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II: Preludes & Fugues Nos. 3, 23. 2-Part Invention No. 6 in E, BWV 777. Keyboard Concerto in D, BWV 972. KAPUSTIN: 24 Preludes, Op. 53: Nos. 4, 5, 9, 23. 24 Preludes & Fugues, Op.82: No. 22 . 8 Concert Etudes: No. 6, “Pastoral,” No. 3. 10 Inventions, Op. 73: No. 9. Piano Sonatina, Op. 100. Moon Rainbow. Contemplation / Luisa Imorde, pno / Berlin Classics 885470014678

Pianist Luisa Imorde enjoys juxtaposing music of different eras, and here she hit on a really odd idea to pair the very formal Baroque music of Johann Sebastian Bach with the jazz-influenced compositions of modern Russian composer Nikolai Kapustin. As she reports in the publicity blurb for this album:

“I really like it when I can properly immerse myself in a topic.” Before making these recordings, Imorde was able to take a look at Kapustin’s own manuscripts at his publisher, Schott. “I really get a kick out of that – and at the same time, it allows me to offer my listeners something they have never heard before.” So it was that she decided on the piece that would lend its name to the album: Moon Rainbow. She is the first pianist to ever record it. “In comparison to the other compositions by Kapustin, Moon Rainbow is very varied. The piece develops a very rich fabric of tonal colours. That too is why the title is so perfect for the work.”

And so here we go, with each piece by Bach immediately juxtaposed with one of Kapustin’s until we reach the album’s finale.

What makes Imorde’s project so likeable is that she takes a highly rhythmic approach to the music of both composers, which means that Bach sparkles and dances beneath her fingertips as much as Kapustin does. It also found it interesting that she chose to play two concerti of Bach based on other composers, BWV 974 modeled after Alessandro Marcello’s Oboe Concerto and BWV 972 after Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto in D, RV 230, since these two Italian composers took more of a dance-like approach to their works, as does Kapustin.

Imorde isn’t the most swinging classical pianist I’ve heard in Kapustin, but swing she does. Her playing is, perhaps not surprisingly, closer in touch and rhythm to Bill Evans, with a warmer, deep-in-the-keys sound than that of Kapustin’s great inspiration, Oscar Peterson. I was also fascinated by the many little rubato touches she brought to the second movement of the Bach-Marcello Concerto, placed on track 3 (the third and final movement, on track 5, follows Kapustin’s Prelude No. 5 in D). And, of course, not all of the Kapustin pieces are uptempo, the Prelude in D being almost in a slow ballad tempo.

Another element of Imorde’s playing that I really enjoyed was her ability to “roll” Bach’s triplets under her fingers. This gives the music, in my view, a somewhat more contemporary sound since it is the kind of thing a jazz pianist would do. Most classical pianists do not roll their triplets the way she does. It’s also quite possible that her immersion in Kapustin’s music has somewhat informed her playing of the Baroque style. Certainly, Kapustin’s Concert Etude No. 6 is rolled under her fingers in a quite similar manner, bringing out its quirky, cakewalk-like rhythm. Just an observation of mine; I’m not saying it’s fact. Yet when one hears the way she plays Bach’s Pastorella in F, with its “slow-drag” rhythmic feel, I can’t escape that impression.

An interesting sidelight: when I heard the late George Shearing play one of Bach’s Keyboard Concerti with the Cincinnati Symphony back in the late 1980s or early ‘90s, he brought the same touch that he imparted to his jazz playing to his classical playing. The notes were Bach’s, and he did not consciously distort the rhythm one bit, but the resultant performance sounded exactly like a George Shearing jazz improvisation insofar as the very slight manipulation of pulse was concerned. Conversely, when you listen to Fats Waller’s jazz piano solos, the rhythm—though swinging—had a very similar articulation to the music of Bach, which he was raised on as a child. So such things do happen. And clearly, the way Imorde plays Bach’s Toccata in e minor has a slight swagger that makes it enjoyable, and yet is also very much like Waller’s jazz playing.

In this musical atmosphere, then, Kapustin sometimes sounds a little like Bach and Bach swings a bit more than usual. Whatever the reason, I somehow feel that this was Imorde’s intent, to show that Bach, too, used dance rhythms in his music and wanted them emphasized as such while Kapustin, a traditionalist at heart, never really abandoned the musical training of his youth even after his exposure to and infatuation with Oscar Peterson. And she does all of this in a natural and artless way, just digging the music as she’s playing it.

The result of this unusual yet enjoyable programming is an album that makes great rainy-day (or Sheltering in Place day) listening. For me, personally, a real bonus of this CD was that I didn’t have most of these Kapustin pieces in my collection!

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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