JS BACH Dance Suites
Given Fred Thomas’s multifaceted talents as a genre- and boundary-blurring composer and improviser, one would expect his first all-Bach solo piano release to embody a specific concept or angle, as indeed is the case. Thomas assembles a selection of individual dance-based movements from Bach’s Partitas, English Suites and French Suites and puts them together in a running order with the ingenuity of a seasoned DJ. What is more, Thomas enhances the character of each piece through various microphone placements. For example, the C minor Partita’s Sinfonia and Sarabande and B minor French Suite’s Minuet are captured at a distance with ample room tone, whereas the E major French Suite’s Polonaise features the kind of close-up focus typical of Glenn Gould’s Bach recordings.
To be sure, you don’t get acoustic changes within selections vis-à-vis Gould’s Sibelius and Scriabin ‘acoustic orchestration’ experiments, yet the point is that ambience strongly factors into how one perceives a performance, much as theatrical lighting enhances onstage drama during individual scenes and transitions. The warm sonic patina surrounding Thomas’s beautifully ruminative way with the A major French Suite’s improvisatory Prelude assiduously gives way to a mellower, more muted ambience in the D major Partita’s Allemande that makes the music sound like an interior monologue. By contrast, the juxtaposition of Thomas’s incisive and ‘zoomed-in’ D major Partita’s Aria and D minor French Suite’s Gigue performances reveal these works as two sides of the same coin.
It makes no sense to evaluate Thomas’s programmatic mixing and matching in the context of complete Partita and Suite recordings, except to say that the serious care and thought characterising his acoustic choices happily extend into his pianism. As a consequence, Thomas’s concept transcends the gimmick.