“Water equals time and provides beauty with its double.”
Anna Gourari, a pianist with a completely individual naturalness and authority, chooses these words from Joseph Brodsky’s essay on Venice as epigraph to her third recording for ECM. Her programme is typically wide-ranging but tightly focussed, with exquisitely alive performances of slow movements by Bach framing a choice selection of pieces from our own time. A span of three centuries is thus traversed, with magical and moving ease. We find memories of Bach reappearing in the regularly repeating notes of diary entries for piano set down in 2002 by the senior Russian composer Rodion Shchedrin, in a work written for Gourari. And we find in the late Five Aphorisms by Alfred Schnittke strange and beautiful chords that seem to condense whole swathes of Bach’s harmony. This is the “Elusive Affinity” of which the album’s title speaks.
The two Bach slow movements are from his transcriptions of concertos by Antonio Vivaldi and Alessandro Marcello, arrangements in which he retraced these orchestral concertos for his own fingers, bringing to them an intimate privacy that Gourari also conveys throughout this recording. Vivaldi and Marcello were both Venetians, and Venice provides, by elusive affinity, the recording’s imaginary location. Photographs by Luca d’Agostino, reproduced in the booklet, follow Gourari through a Venetian archway, beside an ancient wall, on the edge of the lagoon. Water circulates in the city, enveloping past and present, old and new. So in our awareness, as we listen, Bach’s images of a Venice he never visited swim with others from nearer at hand.
These others remind us that Venice, the Mediterranean mirror-image of St. Petersburg, has long been important to Russian artists. Schnittke’s dark pieces sound like shadows cutting across sunlit paving, though there is wit in this music, too. Arvo Pärt, represented by a crucial but largely overlooked early example of his luminous style, evokes bell sounds common to both Venice and the Baltic. Also here are two haunting miniatures by Giya Kancheli and a sequence of memorials to friends by Wolfgang Rihm, where sombreness joins with light, in what is again a Venetian conjunction. © ECM Records