Thursday, March 15, 2012

Dan Tepfer: Goldberg Variations

Dan Tepfer (piano)
Goldberg Variations (Sunnyside; 2011)

The Goldberg Variations is considered arguably one of the most important classical works of all time. Originally conceived by Bach for his favourite performer, Johann Goldberg as a harpsichord piece, it has become more synonyms with the piano as a result of the legendary performance and recordings by Glenn Gould. Think of it in the same respect as Kind Of Blue, Time Out, Brilliant Corners, etc. for the jazz world.

It's never a surprise when a jazz pianist spins off to record a classical album (i.e. Keith Jarrett, Fred Hersch). It's usually more of a shocker when a classical musicians records jazz (ie. Friedrich Gulda or Nigel Kennedy). In recent years, one of my favourite versions of this piece was recorded by the great, Murray Perahia. But when a jazz musicians tackles one of the more challenging canons of the classical music world--you must take notice. And Dan Tepfer has done just that, with an amazing version of the Goldberg Variations.

Fusing his classical upbringing with his sublime improvisational jazz skills, Tepfer moves effortlessly through Bach's masterpiece. But Tepfer takes this homage one step further with a series of short improvisations that are sometimes rooted in classical theory but also bubble with jazz free thinking. The movements are so refreshing and invigorating that you don't realize when you listen to the original work and when you are listening to the improvised pieces.

"Variations/Improvisation IV- VI" are splendid examples of how this unity of reverence and modern thought unfold into something new and richly creative. Starting gently on its original theme and jumping centuries forward but maintained are the carefully crafted boundaries. This is something you could only get from a new vital talent such as Tepfer. I'm not even sure Perahia would have thought of this.

"Variations/Improvisations XXIII-XXV" springs with vitality and settles lightly with a romantic and lengthy theme by Tepfer. Tepfer closes this recital with an improvised and Bach associated "Aria." Both are touching and resolute. "Aria" as intended leaves a permanent footprint on your heart and mind as it fades into the background of your thoughts.

Goldberg Variations is a return to Tepfer's classical beginnings, but is also a remarkable look at how a classic and timeless document can be completely re-imagined. Dan Tepfer has been a star on the rise for many years. With Goldberg Variations, he has created a bridge for classical fans and improvisational fans alike. Highly rewarding and highly recommended.

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