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Karin Kei Nagano, J.S. Bach: Inventions & Sinfonias

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Robert Rowat

"Through this album, I am trying to show the wide spectrum of possibilities and characters these pieces offer to us," Karin Kei Nagano explains via email about her second release on Analekta Records, J.S. Bach: Inventions & Sinfonias, due out March 10.

"This album is also dedicated to encapsulating the youth, spontaneity and freshness of the pieces, which were written for Bach’s young son and students," says the 18-year-old pianist, daughter of Kent Nagano, music director of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, and pianist Mari Kodama. "The 30 Inventions and Sinfonias are truly a collection of gems."

She plays them in an order that may seem unconventional, but corresponds to Bach's Clavier-Büchlein of 1720 in which the pieces are arranged symmetrically by key signature, which Nagano finds more coherent.

Young pianists often pass over these pieces in their haste to play Bach's weightier Preludes and Fugues from the Well-tempered Clavier, which Nagano thinks may be a mistake. "They show such a rich compositional wealth, and demonstrate Bach’s ability to explore so many possibilities within certain limits. It is always to me quite fascinating how Bach writes such a wonderful variety of pieces using only two and three voices."

In the preface to the 1723 manuscript, Bach pointed out that in addition to learning to play cleanly in two and then three parts, these pieces would help aspiring pianists "arrive at a singing manner in playing." To play them well, Nagano says, "It is important to be able to determine the unique essence, the character and the musical idea of each piece, and to express it in a convincing way."

Of the album's 30 tracks, Nagano says her favourites are the Sinfonias in F Minor and B-flat major. "The first expresses such a deep anguish and suffering that moves me every time; the latter, in contrast, reflects the beauty and joy of life, bringing forth such a delightful spectrum of colours."

J.S. Bach: Inventions and Sinfonias will be released on March 10. You can pre-order the album here.

Nagano performs Bach's 15 Sinfonias as well as Debussy's Pour le piano at Montreal's Bourgie Hall on Sunday, March 12, at 2 p.m.

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