Federico Colli’s Bach: Remarkable Pianism, But. . .

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 7

Sound Quality: 8

Somehow Federico Colli’s penchant for affetuoso contrivance works better in Bach than in his impossibly mannered debut release devoted to Scarlatti. His brisk and joyful way with the Fourth Partita’s outer movements displays real imagination. While some of the Allemande’s dynamic dips are too fey and vulgarly self-aware for my taste, I like how Colli uses shifts of color and dynamics to illuminate harmonic points of interest. The Courante’s dance roots come to the fore by virtue of Colli’s well-oiled finger independence. He begins the Sarabande in grippingly muted tones that are dissipated by patches of detaché articulation. And Colli’s exaggeratedly clipped Menuet sounds like an oh-so-precious caricature of András Schiff or Olli Mustonen.

Colli’s firm deliberation throughout the Italian Concerto’s opening movement is akin to Glenn Gould’s famous 1959 recording, and so is the ebullient finale’s strong left-hand presence. In the slow movement, Colli focuses on the right-hand cantilena while keeping the left-hand accompaniment at quiet bay, as if both components were unrelated. I prefer when the left hand provides more of a fulcrum or an anchoring role, as in Angela Hewitt’s recording.

The Bach/Busoni Chaconne’s opening section broadly unfolds with resolute steadiness and prodigious calibrations of voicing. The octaves are frighteningly even and uniform, the first major-key variation is so muted and held back that it seems as if the piano has been wrapped in gauze. Colli’s interpretation is a remarkable display of abstract pianism at its pluperfect apex, yet little more than that. Where’s the grand architecture? Where’s the sense of dramatic sweep and emotional culmination that pianists as divergent as Arthur Rubinstein, Alicia de Larrocha, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, and Hélène Grimaud bring to this mighty transcription? Not to mention lesser known yet equally formidable contenders like Alberto Reyes, Sequeira Costa, and Peter Rösel. Obviously, no barriers between ideation and execution exist for Colli, yet I suspect I’ll grow tired of his tricks in the long run.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Partita No. 4: Perahia (Sony), Italian Concerto: Hewitt (Hyperion), Chaconne: Larrocha (Decca, analogue recording); Grimaud (DG); Rösel (Berlin Classics)

  • BACH, J.S.:
    Partita No. 4 in D major BWV 828; Italian Concerto BWV 971; Violin Partita No. 2 in D minor BWV 1004: Chaconne (transcribed by Ferruccio Busoni)
  • Federico Colli (piano)

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