This is one of several interesting SACDs from the small Norwegian label 2L, the project of producer Morten Lindberg. The packaging, notes, and especially the first rate sonics show that the label had extremely high standards. Madsen began playing the piano and composing at age six, although he didn’t begin format piano lessons until age 12. In between he fell in love with the jazz elite of the 1950s – Erroll Garner, Oscar Peterson, Charlie Parker among them. Prokofiev and Ravel were among his earliest classical heroes, and he later studied Schoenberg and Webern, but prefers to base his music on tonal foundations.
Madsen’s 24 Preludes & Fugues would have to be the most extensive Norwegian piano work ever. Their genesis was prepared by his studying and playing first the Bach Well-Tempered Klavier – with its 48 Preludes & Fugues, and later the 24 Preludes & Fugues of Shostakovich. He soon had a dream of composing his own collection of preludes and fugues in every key. He had to put the idea aside for many years but in l995 he cleared his desk of teaching duties and commissions and set to it. How the different keys would be presented was the first decision. Madsen was inspired by the German astronomer Kepler and his ideas about “the harmony of the spheres.”
The 24 pieces may have some similarities to the Bach and Shostakovich originals but they have their own appeal that’s quite different. I for one find the Shostakovich set rather dry and humorless, whereas Madsen’s preludes and fugues are full of good humor, elegant melodic and contrapuntal design, and are just plain friendly to listen to. Many of them also exhibit a touch of syncopation and in some cases actual jazz – such as the penultimate prelude (No. 23). A few approach 12-tone techniques but never totally leave the tonal realm. Bratlie is a superb pianist for the works, and 2L’s 5.1 surround puts the listener in the acoustic environment of the church where the recording was made, with a crystalline piano sound of great presence. This is an important milestone in piano literature in my opinion, and could not be more skillfully presented.
– John Sunier