Wendy Carlos's Switched-On Bach is one of those rare novelty recordings that never gets boring. In the capable hands of Carlos, Bach's keyboard masterpieces sound like they were made for the otherworldly blurps, farts, and chimes of a Moog synthesizer. And, in a sense, they were. Bach's inventive music doesn't lose any of its contrapuntal punch in these complicated arrangements and, novelties aside, the playing is great on this Grammy Award-winning classic. Whether performing Bach's "Two-Part Inventions," "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring," or "Wachet Auf," Carlos offers one-of-a-kind interpretations, her synthesizers still sounding as otherworldly as they did in 1968. This is one of those weird and wonderful classical releases that anyone--classical scholar or pop enthusiast--can enjoy. A Switched-On box set exists, capturing most of Carlos's baroque-gone-berserk output, but this is the disc that started it all. In a word, fun. --Jason Verlinde
One of the most imaginative and compelling duo piano teams, Pierce & Jonas have been successfully performing and recording the unusual and neglected two piano repertoire of the 19th and 20th centuries since the mid-1980s. The duo has appeared with many symphony orchestras world-wide including those of Houston, San Antonio, Mexico City and Luxembourg as well as the Royal Philharmonic, Philharmonia, National Symphony of Polish Radio and Television, (Katowice), Luxembourg Radio Symphony, Slovak Philharmonic, State Philharmonic of Kosice, Czech Radio Symphony, Orchestra da Camera di Roma, Chicago Sinfonietta, San Antonio Symphony, Philharmonia Virtuosi and the Utah Symphony. Among their many recent performances include concert appearances in San Diego, Tijuana, Baja, Bratislava, Slovakia and various cities in the Czech Republic.
The Pierce and Jonas duo has performed and recorded all the standard repertoire for two pianos and orchestra as well as introduced and recorded many important twentieth century works including Walter Piston's Concerto for Two Pianos, Benjamin Britten's Scottish Ballad, Morton Gould's Dance Variations for Two Pianos and Orchestra, Paul Creston's Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra, Bohuslav Martinu's Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra, as well as works by Nicolai Berezowsky, Francis Poulenc, Alexander Tansman and Gian Francisco Malipiero. Their recordings include John Cage s Three Dances (Wergo), Charles Ives' Three Pieces in Quartertones (Sony Classical and PITCH) along with the Concerto for Two Pianos & Orchestra (MMC) by the late American composer Robert Starer, who chose the Duo to give the European premier of the work. In 1984, world-renowned Academy Award winning composer, Miklos Rozsa, offered to write for the team a work which became the Spellbound Concerto Fantasie for Two Pianos and Orchestra (a work twice as long as the original Spellbound score, including material not used on the original soundtrack). He also wrote for Pierce & Jonas his New England Concerto for Two Pianos based on music from the films Lydia and Time Out of Mind. The premier performance took place at Salt Lake City and at Snowbird with the Utah Symphony Orchestra, critically acclaimed performances that resulted in the team being invited to give a Command Performance for the Royal Family with the Philharmonia Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. In 1997, Pierce & Jonas gave the world premier performance of the Concerto for Two Pianos & Orchestra, composed for them by William Thomas McKinley, with the Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Valek in Prague. In 1999, Helicon released the world premiere recording of the 1958 Pulitzer Prize winning Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra (1953) by William Porter.
Starting in 1992, Mr. Pierce and Ms. Jonas presented a unique and exciting series of performances at CAMI Hall, New York University and at MicroFest in Trenton, New Jersey as part of Johnny Reinhard's American Festival of MicroTonal Music. They presented first performances of two piano works by Stefen Konicek (Preludium, Blues and Toccata) and Roland Moser's Homage AO as well as two-piano works by Alan Hohvaness, Mordecai Sandberg, Ivan Wyschnegradsky, Bruce Mather and Charles Ives.
Shostakovich performed at a Bach bicentennial festival at Leipzig in 1950. Under the spell of Bach, he quickly wrote this homage, which contains some of his most consistently inspired and inventive music. After half a century, it is now accepted as a timeless classic, a sincere homage to Bach, still individual and expressive. Shostakovich wrote the music for his student Tatiana Nikolayeva, who performed the world premiere. Her three recordings of the cycle are close to definitive, especially the set on Melodiya, which is economically priced but uneconomically spread over three CDs. Scherbakov, who has already made some impressive discs for Naxos, provides a very strong challenge. No recording of this cycle has captured the brooding, inward quality of some of this music as well as Nikolayeva's, but Scherbakov comes close. Where virtuosity is required, he actually surpasses the impressive Nikolayeva. Considering the fine sound quality and extremely reasonable price of this set, it's at least a clear second choice for the ultimate recording of the series, and probably a good first choice for an introduction to the music. The performances are even superior to the well-known versions by Keith Jarrett and Vladimir Ashkenazy. --Leslie Gerber