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Closer Look May/June 2017: New Ways with Bach

(S4) Bach Meets Jazz: 15 Well-Tempered Classics, arranged by Phillip Keveren.

Phillip Keveren's latest arrangements will entertain anyone who loves Bach. In Bach Meets Jazz, Keveren cleverly adds a jazzy spin to fifteen popular Bach works. All the original melodies in these two-to-three-page arrangements are recognizable throughout, and the settings are fun to play—and often surprising.

Keveren arranges a variety of Bach compositions, from keyboard pieces such as the Prelude in C Major, BWV 846, from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I, to great vocal works like "Sheep May Safely Graze," BWV 208. In the introduction, Keveren explains how the harmonic language of the Jazz Age was inspired by Bach's important ii-V-I chord progression, and the included chord symbols will be particularly useful for players who would like to further embellish the selections. Each piece is written idiomatically for the piano, and Keveren includes helpful fingerings and artistic markings. Simple key signatures (up to three sharps or flats) ensure that students will be able to learn these pieces quickly and play them well.

I enjoyed many of these arrangements, but a few were stand-outs. The theme of the well-known Invention in A minor, BWV 784, has a Latin feel that works well with the 4/4 time signature. The arrangement does not have much counterpoint, but is great fun to play. Also beautifully arranged is "Sheep May Safely Graze." Here, improvisatory passages break up the right-hand melodic thread. The left-hand chordal accompaniment is marked by arpeggios, with plenty of room for rubato and expression. Keveren's setting—which modulates from B-flat major to C major—would work well at a reception or as a prelude to a church service.

Bach Meets Jazz is definitely worth adding to your music collection. If students are not familiar with Bach's originals, they may not understand how skillfully Keveren arranges these melodies, but teachers will definitely get a kick out of the jazz tributes to the master. These works are not intended to replace Bach's counterpoint, but they demonstrate a connection between Bach's harmonies and the jazz progressions that arrived on the scene centuries later. They also serve as wonderful introductions to jazz and will appeal to students and audiences alike. (Hal Leonard, $14.99)

—Stephanie Bruning

 (E4) Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring, by Johann Sebastian Bach, arranged by Mack Wilberg.

The chorale from Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring (BWV 147) contains one of the best-loved melodies by J.S. Bach, and is often used for ceremonies and special events. The challenge all arrangers face with this cantata is that the original scoring (for strings, a high brass instrument, four-part choir, and continuo) results in multiple interweaving lines. Mack Wilberg's wise use of eight hands at two pianos allows for a satisfying musical experience of this Bach, with the parts bearing nearly exact representation of the master work. Because of Wilberg's careful adherence to the original score, this eight-hand arrangement could be used as a full accompaniment to Bach's vocal chorale.

The two pianos and four players have distinct roles in the ensemble. In Piano I, the triplet-based instrumental melody is carried by the Primo, with the lower string part and bassline in the Secondo. Because of the overlapping lines and rhythmic considerations of the ensemble, this Secondo is the most difficult of the four parts. Further, the string idiom of Bach's violin parts causes some awkward fingerings and increasing difficulty for these two players. For Piano II, the Primo plays the vocal lines, has several multimeasure rests, and is the least technically demanding of all the parts. The Secondo of Piano II augments the complete ensemble by playing both the lower vocal and string lines, often in playing parallel octaves in the bass. (The publisher's level at "late intermediate" is reflective of the individual parts.) For players with little ensemble experience, the demands of the two-piano arrangement will increase the difficulty.

The purchase of one score includes two copies of Piano I and Piano II, which will facilitate independent practice for all four players. Although the Primo and Secondo are on separate pages, frequent measure numbers are provided, and page turns are wisely placed. This arrangement is certainly worth the effort of securing a two-piano practice and performance space. (Alfred, $10.99 for two copies)

—Sara Ernst

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