I must admit that I usually experience the “minor” key with poignant intensity, but when I heard Elaine Comparone’s most recent performance of J.S.Bach’s celebrated D minor concerto, I felt her inner smile radiate through ripples and waves of luscious phrases even as a tragic dimension blanketed the work. Comparone’s tapestry of moods, feelings and affect, made the reading more than one dimensional.
The performance fueled my desire to import a collection of photos I’d taken at Elaine’s harpsichord palace, for her CD soundtrack. (first movement)
Finally, the Maestra provided an enticing dessert in encore comments about Bach’s monumental composition, her relationship to it, and matters of interpretation.
“I first played the d minor concerto in my senior recital at Brandeis University almost 50 years ago. It was a disaster! I hadn’t memorized it at that point.
“Once I began my professional career in my early 20s, I decided it was important for me to memorize solo pieces and concertos, just as most pianists do! Some harpsichordists feel exempt from this particular requirement. For me it is a sine qua non that enables me to internalize a piece and probe its depths.
“Memorization was tough, almost painful, but it was necessary for me to hear everything that goes on. Unlike other concertos of J.S. and certainly anyone else’s, this one is perfectly complete without the string parts. Sure, the strings add to it, but you could play it without strings for someone who hadn’t heard it and they wouldn’t miss a thing. Everything’s there! There’s a certain amount of doubling of the harpsi-part by the strings in the tutti passages, which makes the piece sound HUGE! I had fun rehearsing with the string players separately. It helped me to hear all the lines along with my own. In particular, I’ve rehearsed it a lot with Veronica the violist over the years. Johann Sebastian probably played viola in the first performance of this piece with one of his sons as soloist. It’s a fantastic part. As in all his works, the line is complete and self-contained from beginning to end. This particular immersion resulted in our recognizing and making audible more subtleties than we had before.
“For instance, to outline the structure of the middle movement, I added new dynamic contrasts to the first statement of the bass line theme that my left hand, cello and bass continue throughout the piece. No other interpretation that I have heard treats the line this way.
“In the first movement cadenza I added new stresses (in the form of time stretches) to several spots that, again, recognize and reinforce the harmonic structure. In the first and second movements especially, I stretch some phrases for expressive purposes in addition to structural ones, but always maintain the basic beat.
“In choosing tempi for the recording, I opted for a slightly broader tempo for the first movement than one usually hears from period instrument ensembles. I wanted to convey the tragic nature of the first movement which gives it its singular power. It is not a light, dancing piece and should not be played too quickly nor flippantly. The last movement can dance and should fly!!
“The middle movement in my mind reflects Bach’s response to the tragedies he experienced in his life, from the deaths of his parents when he was quite young, to the discovery of his wife’s having died while he was away traveling, to the deaths of a number of beloved children. This man intimately knew sorrow, but was able to channel his life experiences through music into the creation of this magnificent and moving work.”
Elaine in a relaxed, unguarded moment:
Vibrant Music-making at Rest or at Play