American pianist Anne-Marie McDermott may be well-known in classical circles, but she was new to me. I was riding in a friend's car when I heard Bach on piano come from the speakers. "May I turn this up?" My friend indicated that her son has chosen this performance on iTunes when they were shopping for Bach. "I don't know why, exactly, but he liked this one the best." McDermott owns the music. Even a fourth grader could tell! On this recording she includes two English suites and two partitas. I gather they were chosen not at random, they're probably the two strongest works from each collection, each. The piano is captured in a small yet live space with plenty of reverb, and above all else, clearly. I might even like it more dry, but the acoustic quality that is captured does well to reveal McDermott's style. How might I describe her approach to Bach? She does not play in a Romantic way, with pedal down, and rubato tempos. Yet, it's Romantic in its approach, despite the clichés. She's not a historic authenticist, playing on piano, but she's also not trying to be historic. Some pianists will imitate the harpsichord sound, either with a very light touch, with plenty of space between the notes, combined with a very limited dynamic range. McDermott's style reminds me of Angela Hewitt, but only amped-up. She takes dynamics to extremes, but uses a very clear touch, even channeling Gould in a few instances. Trills and other ornaments are delicious in execution, sounding as if they came from Bach himself. That's what's so endearing about her style. It's very personal, very personally-authentic. It's not historical, per se, but then again, the style honors Bach. Probably the one thing she does to achieve this personal, yet "let's not betray Bach altogether" style is her avoidance of the pedal. She's a clean player and her command of dynamic contrasts within a phrase, and between phrases, is her strongest artistic contribution. Another winning trait from McDermott is her command of touch and consistency in attack. The first work on the CD gives us the perfect example. It's the first bourée of BWV 807 and it is masterfully realized. There are few recordings I own that I couldn't find something critical to say about; I often lament that live performances involve the more affecting interpretations by many performers. The recording studio sometimes dulls the interpretive fire. With Bach, especially, I often times find myself wishing the performance was amped-up just tad here, or there. That there was more speed, more forte, or more accenting of the rhythm. And with Anne-Marie McDermott, I'm not wishing that at all. I'm nodding, cheering her on. Yes, yes! "Listen to that!" We turned the corner. "Can I turn it up some more?" I had earlier been told to turn the music down. "Why do you like this recording so much?" I was asked. "It's gold!" I replied. Turning up the courante from the first Partita, I said, "Just listen to that! She's exposing the art within the music!" I'm not sure that made terrible sense to my friend. She was happy she had a recording I liked. "Why do you think my son picked this one?" she asked me. "I can't say, but I'd wager it has something to do with the palpable energy and excitement she's contributing to the music." The minuet had started. "Take this, listen to her careful touch, and how the left hand sticks out there, a bit... this is badass. This woman is having the time of her life."
BWV 807, 808, 825, 826. I'm so happy to have come across this recording, and alas, she has only recorded one CD by Bach that I can find. I do hope more surface in the near future. Most highly recommended.