No composer looms over modern jazz quite like Johann Sebastian Bach, whose harmonic rigour seems to have provided the basis for bebop and all that followed. Listen to the endlessly mutating semiquavers tumbling from Charlie Parker’s saxophone and it could be the top line of a Bach fantasia; the jolting cycle of chords in John Coltrane’s Giant Steps could come straight from a Bach fugue and Bach’s contrapuntal techniques crop up in countless jazz pianists, from Bill Evans to Nina Simone. Bach certainly casts a long shadow over US pianist Brad Mehldau: even when he’s gently mutilating pieces by Radiohead, Nick Drake or the Beatles, he sounds like Glenn Gould ripping into the Goldberg Variations. Which is why it comes as no surprise to see Mehldau recording an entire album inspired by Bach. However, this is not a jazz album. Instead of riffing on Bach themes, as the likes of Jacques Loussier or the Modern Jazz Quartet have done in the past, After Bach sees Mehldau using Bach’s methodology. Mehldau plays five of Bach’s canonic 48 Preludes and Fugues, each followed by his own modern 21st-century response.
Being that J.S. Bach is arguably the most influential classical composer in history, it's fair to say that his most crucial works ought to form the foundation of every classical-music collection. This 5-CD set (especially at that price) is the place to start, as it brings together Bach's Brandenburg Concertos Nos. 1-6; Violin Concerto No. 1 in A Minor; Violin Concerto No. 2 in E; Concerto for 2 Violins, Strings and Continuo in D Minor; Goldberg Variations (Andras Schiff); Tocatta and Fuge in D Minor; Suite No. 3 in D: Air on the G String/Fugue in G Minor "The Little"; Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C; Concerto for Violin, Oboe and Strings in D Minor , and more!
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bachs interest in the organ would seem to be fairly limited, at least judging by the number of pieces he composed for the instrument. The reasons for this attitude could be personal and professional, but could also reflect the changing affections and the new sensibility of the period, since during his lifetime the organ underwent a phase of relative decline. Indeed, following the acme reached by Johann Sebastian Bach, the instrument sank into a phase of neglect in Germany during the second half of the 1700s.
Two things distinguished Thomas Hengelbrock's 1996 recording of Bach's B minor Mass from the many other historically informed performances of the work released in the early digital era. Where many other conductors used small mixed choirs, Hengelbrock not only used the 26-voice Bathasar-Neumann-Chor, he drew his soloists from it. And where most other conductors tended exclusively toward quick tempos, Hengelbrock mixed things up, favoring fast tempos in joyful movements and slow tempos for painful movements.
Claudio Abbado isn't a name one associates with early music, in light of his impressive career conducting the masterworks of the Romantic and modern eras. Indeed, he didn't conduct any music by J.S. Bach with the Berlin Philharmonic until as late as 1994. Yet when he's leading the talented Orchestra Mozart of Bologna in Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, his ease with the music and his players is obvious, and the performances have almost as much Baroque style as many versions by period ensembles of greater longevity. Abbado led this ensemble in all six Brandenburgs in 2007 at the Teatro Municipale Romolo Valli in Reggio Emilio, and the live performances were recorded by Deutsche Grammophon with close attention to details, as befits chamber music.
This is a perfectly reasonable recording of Bach's works for violin and orchestra and anyone who has not heard the works before will no doubt find them more than adequate. Violinist and leader Jonathan Rees is a fine player with a sweet tone and a warm style and he takes the strings of the Scottish Ensemble through thoroughly professional performances of the works. When joined by spry violinist Jane Murdoch in the Concerto for two violins and plangent oboist Nicholas Daniel in the Concerto for violin and oboe, Rees proves himself a graceful and considerate partner. Virgin's early-'90s sound is a bit thin on top but still clean and clear.(James Leonard)