Keith Jarrett – J.S. Bach The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1 – ECM New Series 2627/28 4818016 [2-CD Set] ****1/2:
(Keith Jarrett – piano)
A rite of passage for trained pianists is J.S. Bach’s The Well Tempered Clavier. WTC was a collection of two sets of preludes and fugues written for all of the major and minor keys. They were composed for solo keyboard which in the early 18th century meant harpsichord, clavichord and possible organ. The sets were written twenty years apart with the chromatic progression alternating prelude and fugue. The series begins with a C major prelude, followed by a C minor fugue and eventually concluding with a B minor fugue. The preludes are noted for their rhythmic, musical themes, while the fugues have a contrapuntal element that involves different voices and repetition. From Mozart (who is said to have practiced WTC religiously), Beethoven, Chopin Brahms and Shostakovich to modern day classical pianists, this exacting ritual is an eternal basic learning tool of musical expression.
Keith Jarrett in his long, accomplished collaboration with ECM Records has explored the world of classical music, including Bach, Shostakovich, Bartok and Mozart. He has composed various pieces in this genre. In 1987 he released a studio album of J.S. Bach The Well-Tempered Clavier. At that time he performed a concert of WTC at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. The combination of numerical precision, improvisational gravitas, and arduous challenge showcases the live skill set of Jarrett. ECM has released Book 1 (BMV 846-869) of this memorable concert. Jarrett’s commanding technique and feel for composition is on full display. Whether it’s the flowing, hypnotic two-minute melancholic ecstasy of the C major Prelude or the animated punctuation of D major prelude and fugue, his intrinsic balance of crisp notation and restrained flourish is compelling. There are a variety of approaches to the different keys. A sense of counterpoint in F-sharp major fugue is spirited, and the integration of muscular left hand and right hand trilling in g-sharp minor prelude is impressive. Jarrett injects a commitment and vigor to baroque-flavored classicism. He possess the ability to distill melodic essence and rhythm fluency in concise parameters. The tracks run from 0:48 (G major prelude to 6:51 (b minor fugue). The entire performance grabs the listener and never lets go.
Keith Jarrett – The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1 is a great example of a jazz musician who finds matching passion in classical music. As with all ECM live recordings, the acoustics are top-notch. The mic placement for the piano is balanced, with resonant clarity at both the upper and lower registers. The intimacy (even in a concert setting) is captured with deft subtlety by engineer Tom McKenney. The music world will be looking forward to a future Book 2 release.
CD 1: Prelude And Fugue: C Major, c minor; C-sharp major; c-sharp minor; D major; d minor; E-Flat major; e-flat major/d-sharp minor; E major; e minor; F major; f minor
CD 2: Prelude And Fugue: F-sharp major; f-sharp-minor; G major; g minor; A-flat major; g-sharp minor; A major; a minor; B-flat major; b-flat minor; B major; b minor