The title Continuum is fraught with meaning, the impact of which is felt throughout the repertoire on this album. It means all of the things that you might find in a reasonably good lexicon. ‘Range,’ ‘gamut,’ ‘scale’… and you may add to that many more epithets. However, none of them can prepare you; even convey the formidable complexity and virtuosity of this music. One is almost immediately put in mind of the work of Thomas Larcher, the Austrian who has done much to advance the use of and performance on a modern concert grand. And then there is Nik Bärtsch an inspirational musician whose work bristles with ingenuity and invention. Nik Bärtsch is unlike many pianists who have surveyed the scope of the piano and breathed in the fresh air of its music, traversing the vast topography of its literature.
Like Larcher, Nik Bärtsch has the innate artistry and technique that enables him to translate old and new triumphantly demonstrating on his instrument this work, worthily entitled Continuum in all its rich sonority and poetic freedom. He is not shy of taking possession of the music that he has composed and applying ornamentation judiciously and, in the haunting ‘Extended’ movements of this suite, imbuing it with rich sonority and poetic freedom. What serves Bärtsch best, though, is his breadth of imagination – a prerequisite given that each ‘Modul’ is dedicated also to instruments other than the piano. Thus he clearly delights in the contrasts between instrumental characters: the sustained thunder of the drums and the sonorous mumbling of percussion, and the refined bellowing of the bass and contrabass clarinets, together with the high-spirited flamboyance of the string quintet.
Nik Bärtsch’s playing throughout is ferociously intelligent. His is the fast-fingered but also beautifully controlled touch of a true pianist, producing a rich sprung tone, exquisitely turned ornaments that seem to be both nimble and unhurried at the same time and faultless legato. He owes almost no one a debt and his highly singular voice has certainly damped down on anyone who may have influenced him early on in his career. Bärtsch does not try to impose too much on the music either but just lets his subtle keyboard skills and inborn musicianly wisdom give it the best possible chance to do its own talking. His is a pure pair of hands in the way that he shapes each ‘Modul’ and eventually the whole of the suite that comprises Continuum, with the drama and fire of one of the finer pianists of our time.
Track List: Modul 29_14; Modul 12; Modul 18; Modul 5; Modul 60; Modul 4; Modul 44; Modul 8_11.
Personnel: Nik Bärtsch: piano; Sha: bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet; Kaspar Rast: drums, percussion; Nicolas Stocker: drums, tuned percussion. Extended – Etienne Abelin: violin; Ola Sendecki: violin; David Schnee: viola; Solme Hong: cello; Ambrosius Huber: cello.
Release date: April 2016
Running time: 1:08:25