After Bach

Brad Mehldau

After Bach
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After Bach

Brad Mehldau

Nonesuch releases Brad Mehldau’s After Bach on March 9, 2018. The album comprises the pianist/composer’s recordings of four preludes and one fugue from J.S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, each followed by an “After Bach” piece written by Mehldau and inspired by its WTC mate. The album begins with Mehldau’s own “Before Bach: Benediction” and ends with his “Prayer for Healing.” Pre-orders of After Bach are available now at iTunes and nonesuch.com and include an instant download of the album track “After Bach: Rondo.”

As Mehldau’s label mate Timo Andres says in his After Bach liner note, “As a professional organist, much of Bach’s work took the form of improvisation, and during his lifetime it was the virtuosity and complexity of these improvisations for which he was most admired … Some three centuries after the fact, Brad Mehldau takes up this tradition and applies it to a frustratingly unknowable aspect of Bach’s art.”

Andres continues, “There have always been elements of Mehldau’s style that recall Bach, especially his densely-woven voicing-but he’s not striving to imitate or play dress-up. Rather, After Bach surveys their shared ground as keyboardists, improvisers, and composers, making implicit parallels explicit.”

After Bach originated in a work Mehldau first performed in 2015-commissioned by Carnegie Hall, The Royal Conservatory of Music, The National Concert Hall, and Wigmore Hall-called Three Pieces After Bach.

Review

I come to Brad Mehldau’s latest album After Bach with classical rather than jazz ears. The album is structured around excerpts from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, Books I and II, and each alternate track is composed by Mehldau, literally ‘After Bach’. Glenn Gould’s interpretation of Well-Tempered Clavier is my touchstone, and I reacquainted myself with his recording for the purpose of this review. The impressive thing about Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier is the way each prelude and fugue demonstrates the individual temperament of each key. For example, the opening C-major prelude is bright and optimistic, and exudes the homely familiarity we associate with that key. Mehldau’s interpretation, Pastorale, displays a similar openness, over which he grafts his jazz-infused chromaticism.

Such is Mehldau’s technical assurance that I was surprised to discover that his background is not, in fact, in classical music. His Bach is crisp and precise, and he does well to differentiate the distinct voices in movements such as the G-minor fugue. His own compositions segue cleanly into the Bach, much in the way that Bach’s own preludes and fugues are designed to transition into each subsequent key. After Bach is meditative and hypnotic, and will appeal to jazz and classical listeners alike.


Alexandra Mathew is a classical music specialist at Readings Carlton.

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