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Published On: Sat, Nov 4th, 2017

”The Greatest Pianist of Our Time“

Christoph Schlüren (nsnbc) : Is there such a thing as a paradigm shift in music listening? Glenn Gould’s Bach performances had a revolutionary impact; no one could escape it whether it be in affirmation or in rejection. The fanatic advocates of so-called ’authentic performance practice’ raise such a claim. Some people today see Teodor Currentzis as the catalyst of such a turning point the classical music world hopes for as if it were the entry into paradise.

Batagov photo courtesy Ira Polyamaya (redacted for nsnbc)

Batagov photo courtesy Ira Polyamaya (redacted for nsnbc)

When I recently got Anton Batagov’s new Bach double-CD (on the Russian Melodiya label) that doesn’t contain anything further than the Partitas Nos. 4 and 6 and the figured choral ’Jesus bleibet meine Freude’. I was a bit surprised. I knew Batagov’s magnificent recording of ’Kunst der Fuge’ that – out of stock for a long time now – does more justice to this magnum opus than any other. But more than one hour for the sixth partita? Even if I attach no importance to such outward appearance – is there something bizarre going on? And can he keep up the tension, can he shape the form as a perceptible whole?

Batagov can. And he overcomes any traditional physical measure. His Bach is even more suspenseful and dense than all his colleague’s attempts if the listener enables himself to leave behind anything he already knows in the moment of intense listening. His performance immediately transcends the material world. The mastery of counterpoint – this means to articulate the individual melodic lines that oppose each other as a living unity in large space – is overwhelming, and at the same time he guides us into a world where rhythm in all its precise clarity is free of any mechanical strictesse. It even touches us like an improvisation that is never arbitrary mannerism but thoroughly organically developing one from the other. Almost always Batagov plays the first time in an extremely broad tempo and takes the repetition significantly faster, and, yes, this new contrast works! What can we learn from it? In any case to widen our limits of a material idea how a continuously developing and potentially coherent form can be manifested.

Anton Batagov, born in 1965 and naming Svyatoslav Richter as his musical guiding star, has been a Tchaikovsky competition winner and has always been a rebel against the commercial music business. He stopped playing in public for twelve years from 1997 to 2009. Today it is mainly only the Russian audiences who know who he is. His Moscow concert for Philip Glass’ 80th birthday in the 1700-seats Svetlanvo Hall was sold out weeks before the event. Whoever discovers him now will not wonder about this exceptional position in a country that impresses the world with Sokolov and Trifonov.

Since Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli there has not been any such complete pianist as Batagov. If we define technique correctly as the ability to reproduce exactly the most simple as well as the complex structures and relationships I don’t know any other pianist today who is on such a level. It is scandalous that our music conservatories are not fighting to engage a ’Professor Batagov’, just as if our scientists wouldn’t have understood the significance of Einstein’s relativity theory.

Anton Batagov is more than just a phenomenal musician. As a composer he goes his way between minimal music, progressive rock succeeding the fantastic King Crimson, Indian and Far-Eastern traditions, and the achievements of Western classical music, developing some of these things further on toward the unknown. His gripping album with the Tibetan singer Yungchen Lhamo (Thayata. Tibetan Voice Meets Russian Piano; Cantaloupe Music), his benchmark-setting Ravel album ’The New Ravel’ (Arbiter) that paved the way for Brian Eno to classical music, his timeless recordings of Messiaen and Feldman are recently joined by Philip Glass recordings (’Prophecies’ and ’Complete Piano Etudes Live in Moscow’) that in their hypnotizing power and most subtle differentiation of the most delicate details reveal this composer in never seen light. At least in this regard I completely agree with Teodor Currentzis: that Batagov is ”the greatest pianist of our time”. And he is a lot more than that.

Christoph Schlüren – nsnbc 04.11.2017    –    Christoph Schlüren, from Munich in Germany, works as conductor (Deutsche Kammerakademie Neuss, Symphonia Momentum, St Michel Strings Mikkeli) and musical mentor for chamber groups and soloists as well. Christoph Schlüren has more than 20 years experience as journalist, music author, music editor and program adviser. Artistic director of Aldilà Records. Particular interest in never-ending discovery of substantial unknown music in any kind of style and genre. Studied with Sergiu Celibidache from 1981 to 1996. A basic book on musical phenomenology will be released soon.

Discover Anton Batagov and his website HERE.

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  1. Quite good.
    Gould opened the gates, showing how broad and equally perfect
    could the Interpretations of Bach be. It was fascinating 50 years ago. It is fascinating now.
    I was very surprised and not surprised at the same time, when hearing old empress Marta playing Bach, but surprisingly Gouldish.
    I was wandering who was the elderly fellow on music channel, in a small auditorium playing Bach freely and spontaneously Gouldish. I suspected that it might be Andrasz Shief, who in the younger years used to play Bach not removing his foot from the pedal and that something happened to him. And it was him.
    In one occasion, visiting HUJI, a friend in Tel Aviv showed me
    a kind of global CD catalog, with critics reviews, and we both enjoyed witnessing that the world top critics marked Gould with ** out of 5*, with the strong critical remark – he was singing while playing!
    I am happy that the world is advancing, thou in very rare aspects, but with general music acceptance – with the global year of Bach-Vivaldi-Handel, as I am pleased that the Inventor genius Gould admirers is growing fast.
    In 1990 I had here in the Student Culture Center – Belgrade, Thursday evening music club, where almost only Gould – Bach was played, live performances by pianists and students of piano, almost exclusively Bach werke.

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