Rangell’s Bach: Enigmas, Rituals, and Magic

Mar 16, 2020

Acclaimed Pianist Andrew Rangell’s loving exploration of Bach's keyboard music continues with a bouquet of touching masterpieces that has the inventions at its core – and it’s WCRB’s CD of the Week.

Ask Andrew Rangell what it was that first made him fall for Bach, and he’ll answer before you’ve finished your question. “Two words,” he’ll say: “Glenn Gould.”

Generations of pianists and audiences have come to Bach through Gould, and for Rangell, the first immersion at his father’s record player was the beginning of a relationship that has never dimmed. He went on to Juilliard and won the Avery Fischer Career Grant, performing to acclaim for his intelligent, communicative concerts. Then, in the 1990s, a mysterious hand injury turned his world upside down, and when, after many years, he was able to carry on, he shifted (like Gould) from a life spent on stage to a life in the studio. While many pianists think of the studio session as the worst of all their struggles, Rangell has come to find it liberating. The good news in the studio, he says, is that “you have the time and you have the opportunity to create an abundance of interesting material – especially if you’re not constrained by the concept of absolutely having to play, as in a concert performance, from beginning to end.”

Now Andrew Rangell has released the next in his series of Bach recordings. A Bouquet of Bach features the two- and three-part inventions, the early set of variations called Aria Variata, and piano transcriptions of Bach’s music by Egon Petri.

Bach’s inventions are jewels, written as teaching pieces when the first of his many children were young. There are thirty of these minute-long “adventures,” as Rangell calls them, written in Bach’s lifelong language of counterpoint -- two or more lines of music that could each live on their own, but which instead exist in a remarkable space with each other – weaving, imitating, creating harmony, touching us in a magical way as they make their way home. Rangell says that the lifeblood and the fun of the inventions comes in creating the foreground and background that the voices insist upon.

Listen to the three-part invention (Sinfonia) in F minor (track 30). Rangell is overwhelmed by this one. In his liner notes, he calls it the “pearl” of the inventions, “whose interlocking themes form a unique, solemn and magical ritual.” Only through Bach’s unspeakable genius could a teaching piece become something so wise and precious.

And there is much more to the bouquet, including transcriptions that are charming to the point of goosebumps by the golden-age pianist Egon Petri.

A wonderful note about Andrew Rangell: he has a wise and playfully detailed way with words and a paintbrush! His children’s book Peter Pajamas features his own tender illustrations, and comes with a CD of fabulously chosen Bach pieces and narration, both by Rangell. And for the 250th anniversary of Beethoven, there’s another one on its way in May.

I spoke with Andrew Rangell about many things and I hope you’ll listen – there are few people who communicate with such energy, clarity, and passion about the greatness we instinctively love about Bach. Listen here:

Listen to a track from the album:

To sample tracks and to purchase this recording, visit ArkivMusic.