Víkingur Ólafsson nominated for BBC Music Magazine Award
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 Sigurðsson – 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.