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Goldberg

Artist: John Law

Date of Release: 01/03/2015

Catalogue no: 33Xtreme 005

Label: 33 Xtreme

Price: £12

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John Law: solo piano

Solo piano recording of J.S.Bach's Goldberg Variations. With added ambient electronic opening and closing tracks.

"A fascinating portal into Bach's music that sets the mood for a total experience of the work." All About Jazz

John writes:
For almost as long as I can remember I’ve started my day, whenever possible, by playing some Bach. I often liken it to praying, or to washing! And I planned to record the Goldberg Variations already back in the 90’s, but never got round to it. By the time I eventually did do it, in 2013, the concept had developed somewhat in my mind. I got the idea that it would be interesting to bookend the piece with an opening and closing piece of electronic, ambient music which I would compose. These pieces would be based on the harmony and bass line used in the variations and which underpin the whole work. And I wanted the Bach to grow out of the G major chord and return to it. The first time I heard the Goldberg Variations, live, I was struck by the feeling, when the Aria returns at the end, of ‘coming home’, and that, after all the journey that we’d undertaken, after all the detail and ornamentation, it was the harmony and the bass line that underpinned the whole journey. That was our ‘home’, not the actual detail of the aria.
It was this feeling I wanted to recreate, albeit in a rather more compositional and contemporary way.

The other idea I began to develop was the plan to get the whole work, including the two ambient electronic pieces, animated and issued on dvd. I'm currently working with the artist and digital animator David Daniels, who's created a graphic visual realisation of the music, turning the score into an abstract, stylised film. The project is now being toured live, with musician and visual artist Patrick Dunn operating the film live, following in the score the speed I'm playing every phrase and every bar. The images used in this audio cd version are all stills from David’s film of the aria.

Here's a link to some uploaded files from the Goldberg project - a sample of the visuals prepared by the artist who's working on the visual realisation, David Daniels:

Bach vimeo link: Goldberg film

This is the entire finished film, including the two ambient electronic tracks, Opening and Closing, which also feature on the audio CD. There are stills from the visuals of the Aria on the CD artwork.

 

Reviews

 

18/02/2015 Jakob Baekgaard

J.S. Bach's The Goldberg Variations is one of the most famous works in the literature of the piano and an endless source of inspiration for pianist around the world -and not only classical pianists. Bach's music simply transcends genres and his ability to develop and sculpt variations on a theme remain unsurpassed. It is no coincidence that the legendary saxophonist Coleman Hawkins, himself a master in the art of thematic variation, deeply admired Bach.

In the informative notes for his interpretation of Goldberg, British pianist John Law explains the structure of the work and sees a resemblance to jazz: "The Goldberg variations fall somewhat between a chaconne (variations on a repeating chord sequence -rather like we do in jazz!) and a passacaglia (different harmonisations over a continuously repeating ground bass)."

In his own interpretation of the work, Law has made a bold move. He has bookended a traditional reading of The Goldberg Variations with two of his own electronic, ambient compositions based on the harmony and bass line used in Bach's work. The result is a fascinating portal into Bach's music that sets the mood for a total experience of the work.

The Goldberg Variations is indeed a complex work and it has been revisited by piano masters like Glenn Gould and Andras Schiff. Recently, Danish pianist Carsten Dahl has made a version for prepared piano that radically transforms the sound of the music. What Law does is primarily that he changes the context of the way the work is experienced, but this is also crucial. Most artists know how important the frame is for the experience of the painting and Law has respectfully changed the frame and removed the dust so the grandeur of Bach's work can be heard clearly.

However, with the original pieces being so successful, one can't help but wonder how a complete electronic, ambient interpretation of Bach's work would sound like. That is a question for the imagination or, perhaps, the next step in yet another interpretation of this endlessly fascinating work.

 

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