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December 14, 2010

For the classical music lover on your holiday shopping list, Part 3

Jeffrey BiegelHere's an easy choice for music fans on your holiday shopping list -- assuming they like Bach, piano and Bach played on the piano.

A new CD titled "Bach on a Steinway" offers some nice novelty angles, too. It's the inaugural release of Steinway & Sons own label, which will be devoted to pianists of the past and present who favored this brand of keyboard instrument.

And this recording features Jeffrey Biegel, a musician who doesn't just play Bach with great technical and coloristic flair, but also adds more ornamentation than pianists typically do in this repertoire.

Biegel, you may recall, persuasively embellished Mozart sonatas on recordings for the E1 Entertainment label; that was one of my picks last year at this time. With Bach, Biegel is always tasteful, applying ornaments with an elegant, unfussy touch in a program that includes a couple of toccatas, two preludes and fugues, a partita and the French Suite No. 5.

To give you a taste of Biegel's embellishments, first listen to

another pianist playing the last measures of the D major Fugue from Book I of the Well-Tempered Clavier, a perfectly fine performance that sticks to the notes as written:



Now here's Biegel playing the end of this fugue with some delectable ornamentation (if you hear any static, that's not the disc, but some glitches I encountered while creating the audio clip and couldn't eliminate):


The sound quality is excellent on the disc and, of course, so is the piano -- a 1980 Steinway Model D that Biegel chose for its "warmth and wide dynamic range, but also the brightness and bite I was after for Bach." That pretty much describes the performances. I especially like the bite.

Posted by Tim Smith at 7:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Classical, Clef Notes


I have to disagree with you on this one, Tim. This is taking Bach's Baroque to a "Rococo" level. It's just too much ornamentation and takes away from the basic line. I do like an occasional added twist or turn such as Simone Dinnerstein adds to the French Suite in G Major. Maybe I'm a purist but a whole CD of this would probably drive me crazy.

I very much appreciate how you feel. But I figure there are so many pianists who stick closer to the score that there can be room for an occasional detour. TIM

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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