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GRAMOPHONE (04/2024)
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Reviewer :
Fabrice Fitch

..., the guiding thread of (Staier's) recital is not narrative but concretely musical. It follows the fortunes of a fugal subject at the hands of Fux, Fischer and Froberger, culminating in one of its crowning iterations, the second E major Fugue of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. (Staier’s informative programme notes mentions other ones, from Josquin to Mozart, emphasising its range and longevity.) Like Tóth-Vajna, he interleaves the meatier contrapuntal pieces with selections by Fischer, which sound altogether more effective in his hands. Another point of comparison is Froberger’s memento mori, which we hear in both recitals, but which Staier imbues with all the pathos and subtlety one could wish for.


Staier avoids the potential didactic pitfall that the concept might have laid for him. But the surprise comes in the form of music by Staier himself, a suite of six pieces (or ‘meditations’) based on the same theme and its avatars in the rest of the recital, the fruits of the enforced break from touring brought on by the pandemic. Its atonal and pungently dissonant harmonic idiom is leavened by audible melodic references to his source materials; an improvisatory formal looseness chimes with a certain Baroque aesthetics. The effect is kaleidoscopic or cubist, in that similar affects return and rotate (with the short, arpeggiated fifth piece the lone exception). Lasting over half an hour, they feel slightly unbalanced in proportion to the rest of the recital, but Staier’s fastidious playing imbues them with purpose and incident, and the transition from the last piece into the Prelude to Bach’s E major Fugue works as well as he intends; a side to his artistry that one’s grateful to encounter.

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