Gabriela Montero | Bach and Beyond
Improvisations on themes by J. S. Bach

EMI Classics

Bach to the Future
by Anna Lisa Eyles December 2006

Gabriela Montero’s latest CD, Bach & Beyond, is a contemporary exploration of nearly a dozen of Bach’s better known works, extemporizing the multiple, largely classical directions the works might have taken if written in this century.

Opening with a keyboard arrangement of "Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring", Montero plays technically challenging variations on the theme. These are soothing, but move away from Bach’s lyricism and dynamics.

The third and to my mind, best track of Bach and Beyond is Montero’s own composition "Beyond Bach". Sometimes bordering on New Age music, this work is true to Montero’s improvisational style.

Like Bach and other major composers of his era, Montero improvises in live concerts for her audience. Bach too, would honour his patron’s guests by improvising and exploring a theme suggested. Bach improvised a five voice fugue for Frederick the Great, he later sent a set of fugues to the Prussian King, humbly claiming that his performance during the King’s visit was unworthy. This transparent ‘gift’ resulted in a monetary contribution. Montero’s arrangements explore the potential of the technical aspects of Bach’s works.

Track 10 on Montero’s CD is from the Allegro movement of the Brandenberg Concerto No. 3. Bach’s fund-raising efforts for his growing family were less than successful here, when he composed and sent the unsolicited concertos to honour the Markgrave of Brandenberg. Reportedly, these six concertos were found still unopened in the Markgrave’s library after his death. With a jazz-like interpretation, Montero retains some of Bach’s power and dynamics and allow this work to remain in the forefront of any listener’s psyche.

Despite Montero’s belief that the music comes to her from somewhere out in the ether, for Bach purists, her explorations may not end in wondrous discovery. Unlike previous liberal interpretations of the works of great composers, Montero’s free improvisational style maintains much of the essential classical nature of the original themes. The direction, level, and stories of the music however, are diverted and lack the underlying sense of Bach’s power. While Montero’s resolutions return to Bach’s main themes, the style of the codas are distinctly impressionistic. Perhaps we will hear more of Montero’s own compositions and style in future CD releases.

The tracks
1. Jesu joy of man's desiring 2. Italian Concerto 3. 'Beyond Bach' 4. Air in G 5. Aria
6. Violin Concerto in E 7. Prelude in C 8. Sheep may safely graze 9. 2 Part Invention in d minor
10. Brandenburg Concerto No.3 11. Keyboard Concerto in d minor 12. Toccata in d minor

> www.gabrielamontero.com

We welcome your comments and feedback
Anna Lisa Eyles
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