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Elena Kuschnerova (Piano)

Elena Kuschnerova’s Bach


J.S. Bach: Italianische Konzet BWV 971 · Toccata BWV 914 · Französische Suite BWV 813 · Partita BWV 830

French Suite No. 2 in C minor, BWV 813 [13:20]
Partita No. 6 in E minor, BWV 830 [33:03]
WTC 1: Prelude & Fugue No. 2 in C minor, BWV 847 [3:39]
Toccata No. 5 in E minor, BWV 914 [7:09]
Italian Concerto in F major, BWV 971 [12:55]

Elena Kuschnerova (Piano)


Mar 22, 2000

CD / TT: 70:15

Recorded at Kurhaus, Baden-Baden, Germany.
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Donald Satz wrote (January 20, 2002):
Elena Kuschnerova was born and raised in Moscow. Her mother, a concert pianist, gave her music lessons from the age of four. Elena made her first performance with orchestra at the age of nine and recorded Bach's Keyboard Concerto in F minor for Radio Moscow with the conductor Emin Khachaturian. Her friendship with the composer Alexander Lokshin was greatly beneficial to her musical development, and Lokshin even composed a set of variations for her.

Since 1992, Kuschnerova has lived in Germany with her husband and daughter. She has two recordings of recent vintage: a 'piano reduction' disc of Prokofiev's ballet music and a disc of early piano works of Scriabin.

Kuschnerova considers Bach her "elixir of life", and she has played Bach's music since childhood. Concerning reviews of her Bach disc, the opinions have been mixed. The Fanfare reviewer felt that Kuschnerova's interpretations are exceptional with a wonderful blend of rigor and inspiration, while the American Record Guide review was complimentary but considered her treatment of Bach's slower music too earth-bound and not sufficiently lyrical. On the internet, the Classics Today website had Kuschnerova pegged as "proficient" and not providing much variety of articulation or dynamics.

My take on Kuschnerova revolves around her 'touch' which definitely affects the dynamics. The touch doesn't change much and accounts for why I often lost interest about half-way through each movement. That was usually the best time to move on to the next track. If I was rating first-halves of tracks, I'd likely call Kuschnerova's performances worthy ones. But that would be a little eccentric, so I'll refrain.

The performances do have much to offer. In the Italian Concerto, she really 'lets loose' in the outer movements and generates big-time excitement. In the Andante, Kuschnerova's repeated bass note initially startled me with its boldness, but I later found it distinctive. Her lyricism and sighing notes do not take a backseat to anyone. The basic problem is that as each movement progresses, Kuschnerova's regimen of limited dynamics and touch wears thin. Like a "Timex" watch, she just keeps ticking and ticking in a monochromatic and strong style.

Any differences in her French Suite in C minor? It's more of the same and often less than that. Kuschnerova now has another unfortunate trait; she never seems to be stretching upward with her right hand notes, reaching for her vision. Part of this effect is a lack of strong accenting at critical points, but it's mostly just part of her style. Some folks look to the horizon, others make sure there's no glass on the road. That's fair enough, but much of Bach's music does not take well to the approach.

In the C minor French Suite, the Allemande, Menuett, and Gigue need stretching and some edge from the right hand; Kuschnerova supplies little of either. To make matters worse, her Sarabande is quick and superficial. Only the Air is excellent music-making with a stunning vibrancy. Actually, Kuschnerova delivers more emotional depth in the Air than in the Sarabande; when that happens, you know something's off center. Kuschnerova's French Suite in C minor is not successful and a big step down from Angela Hewitt's version which thrives on diversity and nuance.

I was certainly curious how Kuschnerova would fare in the Toccata. I feel that Bach's seven toccatas with their zest and spunk are best presented on the harpsichord. A great artist like Glenn Gould can overcome the piano's disadvantage and often use the instrument to effect transcendent results. Does Kuschnerova overcome? To a degree. Her 'edge' is substantially more pronouned than it is in the French Suite No. 4, but she still gives a limiting performance concerning dynamics. Also, her double-fugue doesn't possess sufficient urgency or weight, features which Kuschnerova usually handles very well. She's certainly no match for Gould, especially considering his transcendent double-fugue that perfectly blends urgency and tenderness.

The Partita No. 6 almost takes up half the disc's music, and Kuschernova does quite well in the Air, Tempo di Gavotta, and the Gigue; she's quick and exciting. Although her Sarabande is well detailed, it's limited range eventually results in a desire to go on to the next movement.

Kuschnerova concludes with her reading of the Prelude & Fugue in C minor from Book 1 of the Well Tempered Clavier. I defintely want excitement from the Prelude, and Kuschnerova easily provides it. However, her Fugue is too strong and lacking in nuance.

The disc's recorded sound is exceptional; its clarity is particularly impressive. Unfortunately, great sound alone won't win any awards. With performances never better than worthy, and also considering the throw-away version of the French Suite No. 2, I don't consider the Kuschnerova disc a viable contender.

Don's Conclusions: Not recommended. Limited Performances which offer a limited Bach.


Elena Kuschnerova: Short Biography | Recordings of Instrumental Works
Reviews of Instrumental Recordings:
Elena Kuschnerova’s Bach

Instrumental Works: Recordings, Reviews & Discussions - Main Page | Order of Discussion
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Performers of Instrumental Works: Main Page | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z


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