DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON STRIKES GOLD AT 2019 BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE AWARDS
Víkingur Ólafsson’s Johann Sebastian Bach crowns standout night for DG at BBC Music Magazine Awards by winning
‘Album of the Year’ and ‘Best Instrumental Album’
Daniil Trifonov lands top prize in ‘Concerto’ category for his Rachmaninov recording
Two of Deutsche Grammophon’s star pianists were honoured last night (10 April 2019) at the BBC Music Magazine Awards. Daniil Trifonov’s Destination Rachmaninov – Departure emerged as winner of the ‘Concerto’ category while Víkingur Ólafsson’s Johann Sebastian Bach was named ‘Best Instrumental Album’ before going to take the coveted ‘Album of the Year’ title, reinforcing its place among the great Bach recordings.
Víkingur Ólafsson says: “I am very touched to win this important award for my Bach album and to know that people enjoy listening to it. Playing and recording Bach is in many ways the most personal thing one can do in music, and I am very grateful for the incredibly kind and generous reactions.”
Daniil Trifonov’s album represents a remarkable artistic achievement. Destination Rachmaninov – Departure, the first of two discs devoted to the Russian composer’s complete piano concertos, was made with the Philadelphia Orchestra and its music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Trifonov journeyed in Rachmaninov’s footsteps to work with what the composer considered to be America’s finest orchestra. The album received widespread critical acclaim, and prompted BBC Music Magazine’s reviewer to praise the “superbly responsive” partnership between soloist, orchestra and conductor.
“Few Rachmaninov recordings have ever sparkled with as much life and intensity as do these,” commented ZEIT ONLINE. Destination Rachmaninov – Departure was named as ‘Album of the Week’ by the Sunday Times (London), while the Guardian (London) declared it to be “one of the releases of the year”.
Víkingur Ólafsson, described by the New York Times as “Iceland’s Glenn Gould”, came to London to perform two pieces from his album to the capacity audience at Kings Place: the Andante from Bach’s Organ Sonata No.4 (transcribed by August Stradal) and Ólafsson’s own transcription of ‘Widerstehe doch der Sünde’. BBC Music Magazine hailed his recording of original works by Bach and transcriptions by, among others, Busoni and Rachmaninov, as “a balm for the ears”. Its five-star review concluded: “If ever there was an album to demonstrate Bach’s timelessness, this is it.”
A quick survey of coverage in the international media confirms that Ólafsson’s album struck a chord worldwide. “His inspired playing humanises Bach in a way not heard in a long time,” observed the Süddeutsche Zeitung, while the New York Times praised the pianist’s “blend of respect and audaciousness that makes for a refreshing addition to the crowded field of Bach recordings”. Critics have recognised the clarity of the pianist’s interpretations and, above all, the subtle expressive beauty of his artistry.
Interest in Ólafsson’s Johann Sebastian Bach album has soared online, attracting well over 10 million streams and drawing thousands to watch his videos. The album soared to No.1 in the German Classical Chart and No.3 in the French Classical Chart and made it into the German Pop Chart within days of its release last September.
The critical and commercial success of Johann Sebastian Bach supports the findings of a survey recently released by London’s Royal Albert Hall and music streaming service Deezer, which shows a surge of interest in Bach’s music among under 35s. Víkingur Ólafsson and Yellow Label cellist and composer Peter Gregson are set to give the world premiere performance of Bach Evolution at the Royal Albert Hall on 1 May.
“We send our warmest congratulations to Víkingur and Daniil as well as to Yannick and the Philadelphia Orchestra,” comments Dr Clemens Trautmann, President Deutsche Grammophon. “BBC Music Magazine is a tastemaker in classical music. That’s why we’re so delighted to see two outstanding young artists honoured for their work in this way. Their albums belong to the Yellow Label’s great piano tradition. Each recording is distinctive in terms of both interpretation and sonority, as well as being revelatory in apparently familiar repertoire by Bach and Rachmaninov. We look forward to continuing our exciting and rewarding work with Daniil and Víkingur in the long term.”
THE UNIVERSE THAT IS BACH
For his new Deutsche Grammophon album, Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson explores the wellspring of Johann Sebastian Bach’s keyboard music, delivering experimental, innovative and timeless performances
Víkingur Ólafsson is a musical free spirit with a mission. He first made the classical world sit up and listen in early 2017 with his recording of solo piano works by Philip Glass – a fascinating journey through the time and space of their minimalist structures. Glass is now followed by Bach. Set for release in September, Ólafsson’s second Deutsche Grammophon album, the pithily entitled Bach, contains a mixture of original works and transcriptions, which the pianist has woven together in intriguing style.
“It would all mean nothing without Bach,” says Ólafsson. “If Glass’s music is minimal, then Bach’s is maximal!” Having studied his music intensively, he here casts new light on some of the composer’s many different faces. Excerpts from the Well-Tempered Clavier such as the Prelude and Fugue in E minor, BWV 855 or contrapuntal gems such as the Sinfonia No. 15 in B minor, BWV 801 showcase him as, in Ólafsson’s words, “the master of the short story”, while the larger-scale but playful Aria variata, BWV 989 forms the structural heart of the album. The original works are juxtaposed with colourful contributions from other composers, including Rachmaninov’s arrangement of the Gavotte from the Partita No. 3 for Violin in E major, BWV 1006; Busoni’s transcription of the chorale “Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ”; and Ólafsson’s own mesmerising transcription of the first aria from the solo cantata for alto “Widerstehe doch der Sünde”. As his Glass album demonstrated, the pianist is an intelligent and innovative sculptor of sound, an artist who defies conventional categorisation and is redefining classical music. On Bach, the 34-year-old’s lean but immensely expressive playing captivates listeners, his eloquence and the sensuous delight he takes in experimentation holding them spellbound.
The infinitely inspirational power of Bach’s music will be heard again on Ólafsson’s next recording. Scheduled for release on Deutsche Grammophon in late 2018/early 2019, the album will bring together atmospheric reworkings of music by composers such as Hans-Joachim Roedelius, Ben Frost, Peter Gregson and Valgeir Sigurđsson – reimaginings that artfully defragment the creations of Bach. It will also feature a moving and intimate new work Ólafsson has written in memory of his late friend and colleague Jóhann Jóhannsson.“Everything is there in Johann Sebastian’s music: architectural perfection and profound emotion,” says Ólafsson. In his hands, the universe that is Bach shines with new light.