Wednesday, April 22, 2009

In review--Bach, Bach, Bach...

Till Fellner
J.S. Bach
Inventionen und Sinfonien
(And the French Suite V)
ECM New Series

I first discovered J.S. Bach's piano sonatas in 1999 after watching the film, 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould, in which Bach's most famous piano works were featured. Since that time, I have listened to various musicians performing the solo works of Bach on a variety of instruments from piano and harpsichord to guitar.

My classically-trained colleagues and friends have told me about the challenges of performing Bach's repertoire. I have been fortunate to have heard this music played in the hands of masters. And this latest recording that arrived in my mailbox, performed by Austrian pianist Till Fellner, who received much acclaim for his previous Bach recording, Well Tempered Clavier book, has been added to this list.

Inventions and Sinfonia along with the French Suite V, feature a sensitive and delightful performance. Similar to Gould and pianist Murray Perahia, who I also admire, Till Fellner milks the keys on his piano for every nuance. He sails through a variety of moods, rhythms and textures and his beautiful interpetation of these compositions linger long after the recording has ended. And for those of you who enjoy Bach's music, this recording will give you an earful of baroque gems.

Sadly, the liner notes and the press release with an interview with the performer only discuss the technical aspects of Bach's piano compositions. I have never been good music theory student and I am someone who enjoys exploring music through biographical information and through learning about the healing aspects of music.

The questions I ask performers pertain to the healing effects of the music they perform. I want to know what attracts them to certain composers and certain musical works. At least in the biopic, 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould, the filmmakers revealed a virtuoso with severe health problems and this left me wondering if performing the music of Bach and Beethoven preserved the musician's life until his death at the age of fifty. Something kept him going despite his high blood pressure and other medical complications.

On the bright side I feel that listening to the music of J.S. Bach can preserve our health. While it is one thing to actually perform the music and another to let it seep through our ears, I have found many reports of people healing themselves of ailments listening to Bach. And for many of us, there is the pleasure aspect. Bach's music is easy enough for our bodies to digest and even if you just played this music in the background, a healing atmosphere would be created. I read too that listening to Baroque music while eating a meal, promotes good digestion.

Till Felner's lovely recording has been added to my musical medicine chest. And after only a few listens, I have become a fan of Fellner. He certainly seems to be enjoying himself performing these famous pieces, while also giving them a fresh interpretation--pleasing to the ears, heart and entire body.

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