Keith Jarrett

J.S. Bach: The Well-tempered Clavier, Book I [Live, March 1987]

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Jazz pianist Keith Jarrett has recorded a good deal of Bach's music, secure enough to experiment in his home at the ECM label. In 1988, he issued a recording of Bach's Das wohltemperierte Klavier. Before it's release (although after he had made the studio recording) came this performance, recorded live at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall in upstate New York. (Abundant applause is retained, at the end of the first half and at the very end.) The two recordings are not drastically different; although the studio version is sonically cleaner, the present recording gives a sense of immediacy. The Troy venue has a remarkable sense of intimacy preserved here by the engineers. For those unfamiliar with Jarrett's Bach recordings, it may come as a surprise to learn that he leans toward the conservative side. He uses a modern piano, but states explicitly that music written for the harpsichord shouldn't stray too far from what a harpsichord is capable of, and that Bach's music does not need his assistance. His playing is not neutral, but he is reluctant to add much pedal or ornamentation, and there's certainly no trace of jazz rhythms. If there's an influence from his jazz background, it's audible in his tendency toward quick, driving rhythms. He is lively even in the slower fugues which has a satisfying effect, unless you tend toward either the Romantic or the purely historical interpretational extremes. Sample the F minor fugue for an idea. Although well-controlled, Jarrett's performances are never inexpressive, and you can listen to the whole set without the feeling of anything being repeated. It's not clear whether Book II of the Well-Tempered Clavier was recorded at the same session, but one is left hoping it was: Jarrett's deep immersion in the final B minor fugue almost seems a prelude to the second book. Highly recommended.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Title/Composer Performer Time
The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I
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Track Listing - Disc 2

Title/Composer Performer Time
The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I
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blue highlight denotes track pick