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|Goldberg Variations / Variations
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Dan Tepfer has created a kaleidoscopic experience with his solo album Goldberg Variations / Variations, the jazz pianist approaching J.S. Bach's masterpiece one of the classical canon's most totemic works as an inspiring font for creativity. Interspersed with his affectionate interpretation of the complete "Goldbergs" are his own improvised variations on Bach's variations. No Jacques Loussier-style swinging of the classics, Tepfer's variations are marked by a ruminative joy, spiced with contemporary dissonances and a deep feel for the source as timeless music beyond category.
Although the Goldberg Variations are beloved now as an entrancing, virtually sacred work of art, Johann Sebastian Bach published the score consisting of an "aria" and a set of 30 variations in 1741 as a keyboard study, with the piece later nicknamed for the harpsichordist who might have been its first performer. From Glenn Gould to Pierre Hantaï, the modern world's greatest classical artists have performed and recorded the "Goldbergs." Investing himself totally in music he has known since childhood, Dan Tepfer recorded his Goldberg Variations / Variations completely solo, even engineering the late-night sessions himself for total immersion in the process. The result is both utterly individual and genuinely moving.
Goldberg Variations / Variations is the 29-year-old, New York-based Tepfer's sixth album as leader or co-leader, following three heading a trio, one of solo piano improvisations, and another featuring duets with veteran saxophone luminary Lee Konitz. Known for his rare improvisational gift and a complex yet melodic approach to music-making, the prize-winning pianist has been hailed as "a player of exceptional poise" by The New York Times, while Downbeat extolled his "ability to disappear into the music as he's making it."
For those who deem Bach's music untouchable, they should remember Stravinsky's rejoinder to those who criticized his transformation of Baroque compositions in Pulcinella as disrespectful: "You `respect,' but I love," he said. As for Tepfer, he says: "What I'm doing is definitely loving. But instead of recording the Goldberg Variations and then writing lengthy liner notes about how I feel about them, I'm expressing how I feel about them in music, with my improvisations on Bach's variations. One challenge was switching gears playing this classical music that's a real test for me and for so many pianists, then the next minute really improvising and being free."
With Bach using the same chord progression throughout the Goldberg Variations, his musical process wasn't as different from jazz as it might seem. "That is really what we do in jazz, particularly when playing standards," Tepfer explains. "We take the chord progression of a tune, and it's often as simple as Bach's Aria, and we make variations on it. Lee Konitz has been playing the same tunes his whole life. One of the amazing things about him is you'll play the same song with him on tour night after night say, `All the Things You Are' and it will be really different every night. So if you recorded all of those and put them end to end, it might sound like what Bach
had done with the `Goldbergs,' taking one simple piece of material and weaving all these different emotional states into it. With my improvisations, it was a case of, how much more diversity can I get out of this chord progression? And what's really important to me as an improviser is to have a voice. So I'm reacting to Bach with my own tone, my own vocabulary."
|Elgar: Enigma Variations
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|Britten: The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra; Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge; Simple Symphony
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In this century, few composers have been as well-equipped to perform their own works as Benjamin Britten. An accomplished pianist and conductor, he was used to working in front of the microphone and was able to record most of his own works, some more than once. Despite the continuing popularity of these scores with other conductors, the composer's own versions have held up very well. Britten's account of the Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, recorded in 1963 with the London Symphony, shows a masterly touch. Many of the subtler details of the writing emerge in this performance, which, for all the felicities of expression and nuance it achieves, moves along rather smartly. It's a spirited treatment, quite modern-sounding in places, with the LSO clearly having great fun. The recording, made in Kingsway Hall, is very bright and exhibits a touch of brittleness at the high end. --Ted Libbey
|Bach: Great Organ Works
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|Brahms: Variations Op. 21, Op. 24, Op. 35
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|Mathis Der Maler / Symphonic Metamorphosis
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These 1987 realizations of the Mathis Symphony and the Symphonic Metamorphosis from Herbert Blomstedt and the San Francisco Symphony, marking their first recorded collaboration, are powerful, deeply felt, and thrilling to the ear. The Mathis is particularly striking in its evocation of mood: dramatic without being overblown. Blomstedt is notably successful with the score's difficult concluding movement--by making each of its episodes substantive, he makes the whole seem less episodic than it usually does. Both here and in the Symphonic Metamorphosis, there is beautiful wind and brass playing from the San Franciscans; they are clearly well rehearsed and exhibit a commendable responsiveness to Blomstedt's direction. The recording is of demonstration quality: impressive in its depth, sense of space, and visceral impact. --Ted Libbey
|Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra
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|Bach: Goldberg Variations
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In the summer of 1955, a brash, eccentric, and awesomely gifted 22-year-old pianist swept the didactic cobwebs off this monumental opus, and a star was born. For listeners weaned on romantic Bach stylings of Fischer, Casals, and Landowska, the effect was like stepping into an ice cold shower. Glenn Gould's agile, independent hands and hair-trigger rhythm ignited Bach's virtuosic writing with insight and irreverence, sprucing up the counterpoint with crisp articulation, perky accents, and jaw-dropping tempos. This debut recording is the best-known and arguably the finest of Gould's commercial discs. Buy it and hear why. --Jed Distler
|Rachmaninov: Music for 2 Pianos - Suites Nos. 1 & 2, Opp.5,17 / Etude-Tableau, Op.33 / Symphonic Dances, Op.45 / Russian Rhapsody / Corelli Variations, Op.42
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|Hindemith: Symphony in E flat, Symphonic Metamorphoses; Konzertmusik, Op. 50
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