Sunday, October 11, 2009

She blew my mind behind the wrecking machine

Pardon my obsession with the music of Bach, but since it really speaks to me, and the blog has my name on it, well, here's some more Bach.

A lot of what makes Baroque music so wondrous is the often insistent tempo. Just when you think you can't take it any more, it keeps on going with a new variation of the theme, which makes the relentless rhythm seem even more OK, as a driving force to take you to the mountain top. Like the Little Engine That Could, Bach was.

One of the better examples of this is the 10th movement of the cantata Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, commonly called Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring. The original first line, Jesus bleibet meine freude (Jesus remains my Joy) is perhaps a better rendition of the sense of the whole lyric.

Since I am a recovering guitarist, I naturally look for guitar interpretations of music I love. Christopher Parkening has been the greatest arranger and advocate of Bach for guitar: see Parkening Plays Bach.

But here's the problem for guitarists. While Segovia said "the guitar is a small orchestra", and while in theory it can play up to 5 voices at one time, the reality is that Bach's counterpoint can require many more voices than 5. So an arranger for solo instrument has to pick and choose which voices to present, and which to drop.

Parkening's arrangement of "Jesu" is wonderful, and his playing so smooth, yet still doesn't capture quite the essence of the insistent accompaniment underneath the main melody that never ever stops except in the first half of each 'verse'. Because there simply aren't enough fingers to do that.

But wait, other folks can rock some Bach too. Here's Koari Muraji, a young Japanese woman who, while not having Parkening's longer years of expression and performance, has a great sense of what Bach should sound like. And she nails the continuo in the 2nd half of each verse, while not letting the melody get lost. Sublime musical technique and taste. This is rock'n'roll:



(Title is a lyric from a Skid Row song called Sweet Little Sister. Skid Row was fronted by a guy who went by the stage name Sebastian Bach. Dumb, I know. But it still made sense to me.)

3 comments:

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