November 30, 2014

An interview with Piotr Anderszewski on his new album of Bach's English Suites

The pianist explains his fascination with the music in which Bach has left him "endless space for creativity".

The English Suites have been used since Bach’s time as exercises and as a pedagogical aid. When did you first come to them?

PA: I first came to the English Suites as a teenager; I was about 14. It was the third suite, I remember. At the time I had not  clue what to do with this music.

The suites have been a staple of your recital repertoire for some time, but you have previously only recorded the sixth. Why was it the right moment to commit them to disc now, and why the odd-numbered ones to start with?

PA: I decide to record a CD whenever I feel I have explored enough the pieces to actually dare engraving them.I just felt ready last spring. Nr 1  seemed the most problematic.I feel I finally found a convincing solution.The odd numbers are pure coincidence.
 
You are often described as a ‘perfectionist’ – is Bach music that you approach in the spirit of the search for perfection?

PA: I am not sure what 'perfectionist' means. When I decide to interpret a piece of music I just have to be convinced about what sound come out from under my fingers...About every note. This seems very natural to me.
 
Of course, recording in the studio is by definition a perfectionistic exercise: how did you go about it for this album?
 
PA: Work on this album did not differ especially from the previous ones. First I have to feel I have done my best during the recording sessions and then during editing be convinced I am using the recorded material in the most full and proper way.
 
Are there performers of Bach on piano whom you admire?

PA: I don't listen to other performers in repertoire I am about to record, but as a child and teenager I was of course fascinated by Gould, and later by Edwin Fischer.

What is special and unique about the English Suites in Bach’s keyboard output that keeps you coming back to them? Are there a couple of moments or movements in particular that stand out to you as particularly remarkable?

PA: I guess there is on one side a severe aspect to those pieces that fascinates me but on the other hand they leave an amazing amount of freedom to the interpreter. I feel they leave endless space for creativity. In these suites I would say the Sarabande and Bourrée of the 1st, the Allemande and Sarabande of the 3rd and the Sarabande and  Gigue of the 5th are very special to me. But absolutley all the movements are unique and special.
 
What are the qualities you admire and strive for in Bach playing?
 
PA: Clarity. Clarity of the counterpoint, of course, but also in capturing the formal quality of the piece. Then a subtle balance between a sense of abstraction on one side and lyricism and rhythm on the other.
 
Piotr Anderszewski's album of Bach English Suites Nos 1, 3 and 5 is out now. Read the Guardian review.