Although not quite at the level of profundity of his teacher Gustav Leonhardt's recording, Kenneth Gilbert's 1983 recording of Book 1 of Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier does have a style and polish that Leonhardt's too often lacked. Thus, while Leonhardt goes further into some of the minor-key fugues to find intellectual and spiritual depths that Gilbert does not plumb, Gilbert's playing is so much more elegant and graceful than Leonhardt's that it is difficult to choose between them. For listeners who approach The Well-Tempered Clavier as a volume of virtuoso works whose success depends on the effortless refinement of the player, the Gilbert, with its superbly remastered sound, will be the one to get. For listeners who approach The Well-Tempered Clavier as a volume of prayers written as preludes and fugues, the Leonhardt will be preferable. Both are superb and both belong in any Bach collection.
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bachs interest in the organ would seem to be fairly limited, at least judging by the number of pieces he composed for the instrument. The reasons for this attitude could be personal and professional, but could also reflect the changing affections and the new sensibility of the period, since during his lifetime the organ underwent a phase of relative decline. Indeed, following the acme reached by Johann Sebastian Bach, the instrument sank into a phase of neglect in Germany during the second half of the 1700s.
No composer looms over modern jazz quite like Johann Sebastian Bach, whose harmonic rigour seems to have provided the basis for bebop and all that followed. Listen to the endlessly mutating semiquavers tumbling from Charlie Parker’s saxophone and it could be the top line of a Bach fantasia; the jolting cycle of chords in John Coltrane’s Giant Steps could come straight from a Bach fugue and Bach’s contrapuntal techniques crop up in countless jazz pianists, from Bill Evans to Nina Simone. Bach certainly casts a long shadow over US pianist Brad Mehldau: even when he’s gently mutilating pieces by Radiohead, Nick Drake or the Beatles, he sounds like Glenn Gould ripping into the Goldberg Variations. Which is why it comes as no surprise to see Mehldau recording an entire album inspired by Bach. However, this is not a jazz album. Instead of riffing on Bach themes, as the likes of Jacques Loussier or the Modern Jazz Quartet have done in the past, After Bach sees Mehldau using Bach’s methodology. Mehldau plays five of Bach’s canonic 48 Preludes and Fugues, each followed by his own modern 21st-century response.
Following his magnificent recording of J.S. Bach's Inventions and Sinfonias for BIS last year, the Japanese harpsichordist/organist/conductor Masaaki Suzuki here offers more revelatory performances of some of Bach's equally well known (as well as some lesser known) masterpieces. With this collection, simply titled Fantasias & Fugues, Suzuki provides a grand overview of Bach's lifelong sporadic exploration of the Fantasia genre.
Following the fine critical praise for his pioneering recording of the complete Harpsichord Suites of G.F. Handel, Gilbert Rowland moves to the lesser known but equally inspired Johann Mattheson (1681-1764) who composed these suites in 1714. Although generally following the then current Dance Suite format used so much by Bach, Handel and others, Mattheson created variety with different dances (such as the Tocatine) and varying numbers of movements. Certainly very musical and original, these Suites deserve to be considered on a level with those of Handel at the very least. Masterful performances by Gilbert Rowland who plays a 2-manual French-style instruments by Andrew Wooderson (2005) after an original from 1750 by Goemans.
With the possible exception of Richard Pinhas' Heldon, Gilbert Artman's Lard Free was probably the premier French progressive group of the '70s. The prolific Heldon might win in terms of amount of material, but the three near-perfect albums by Lard Free (despite the truly wretched band name) probably have them beat in terms of overall quality. Although Artman, a drummer who also dabbles in synthesizers and piano, called Lard Free a group, he was the only constant member; all three albums have different lineups. 1973's Lard Free consists of relatively short pieces with prominent piano and saxophone parts, and as such is the most jazz-oriented of the three. The following year's I'm Around About Midnight consists of three long pieces with much more synthesizer; at times, it sounds almost like early (pre-ambient) Tangerine Dream, or perhaps Clear Light, the French collective Artman and the then-current lineup of Lard Free occasionally worked with around this time. 1977's Lard Free III, also known as Spirale Malax, is Artman's best work, a pair of side-long experiments that combine space music, jazz, and King Crimson-style heavy progressive rock better than many groups (including King Crimson) could ever hope to manage.
This is a superb recording of the Two-Part and Sinfonias (Three-Part Inventions) of Johann Sebastian Bach. Kenneth Gilbert is a wonderful interpreter of Bach's keyboard music and in this recording plays an instrument made in 1671 by Jan Couchet that was subsequently enlarged in 1778. The Two-Part Inventions and Sinfonias consist of 15 parts; they were written as technical exercises and as composition demonstration pieces originally for his son Wilhelm Friedemann. The various pieces were probably written separately and were gathered together by Bach in major/minor key sequence and published in 1723. The recording is clear and well balanced. Kenneth Gilbert plays beautifully; the music is lively without being ostentatious.
The Art of Fugue or 'complete practical fugal work', as C. P. E. Bach described his father's giant contrapuntal achievement, is well represented in the current recording catalogue. The approaches to it vary considerably with performances on solo keyboard—harpsichord and organ—and mixed ensembles with markedly different shades of instrument colour. Varied too, is the sequence in which the performers play the fugal parts which comprise the whole. Some complete the final fugue, some do not; some find a place for all the pieces included in the posthumous original edition of 1751, others have given reasons for omitting those which seem not to play a directly relevant part in Bach's scheme. Kenneth Gilbert leads us down another fascinating path his performance on a solo harpsichord follows not the 1751 printed edition but Bach's own autograph material differing from the other both in content and layout.