Review: Maestro goes Bach to future
Classical: Brad Mehldau, National Concert Hall
Published 19/12/2015 | 07:00
Brad Mehldau achieved recognition beyond jazz and classical circles by incorporating into his playing snatches of contemporary artists such as Massive Attack and Radiohead. However, his latest performance looks to the past rather than drawing on the present, with the pianist delivering a meditation on JS Bach's signature work The Well-Tempered Clavier.
As Mehldau explains in his extensive concert notes Clavier fused rhythm and melody in a fashion never previously attempted - and one considered heretical by many of Bach's peers. But the 45-year-old had come not to praise Bach as much as comment on his daring, first by recreating the original compositions and then by debuting pieces inspired by the Baroque great (and commissioned by NCH in conjunction with Carnegie Hall).
There was a third component - improvisational flourishes that brought the evening to a close. These were a shop window for Mehldau's unshowy virtuosity as variously stooped over and leaning away from the piano he conjured delicate curlicues and thunking tempos - mixing the ethereal and the sublime with a fuss-free grace.
Occasional snatches of Bach could be detected, bobbing teasingly to the surface and then flowing away, like ice-shards in a spring deluge. Yet Mehldau approached Bach as an equal as much as a icon and there was none of the fusty hero-worship you had feared.
You came away with a heightened understanding of Bach - but also with a sense that classical music was living and breathing and had assuredly moved on from the 18th century.
How many in the room will have grasped the full extent of what Mehldau was seeking to communicate about Bach was uncertain - a high degree of formal music education was surely required. But even enthusiastic newbies will have comprehended that Mehldau was giving sophisticated homage to Bach's uncanny genius and, in the process, achieved a measure of greatness himself.