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Fanfare US

April 1, 2024

Raymond Tuttle

STAIRWAY TO BACH  Sven-Ingvart Mikkelsen (org)  OUR 8.226920 (75:25)

THE DOORS Light My Fire. People Are Strange. BACH Piece d'orgue, BWV 572. Lute Suite in e: Bourrée, BWV 996 (arr. Tull). Prelude and Fugue in g, BWV 535. Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 645. Orchestral Suite No. 3, BWV 1068: Air. SAVAGE ROSE The City Awakes. LED ZEPPELIN Stairway to Heaven. PINK FLOYD Shine on You Crazy Diamond. QUEEN Bohemian Rhapsody. PROCOL HARUM Homburg. Repent Walpurgis. A Whiter Shade of Pale

This CD offers us “rock classics with a hint of Bach,” but I think it is important to clarify that, in some of these rock classics, quotes or near-quotes of Bach's music were already present. For example, in Procol Harum's 1967 classic, A Whiter Shade of Pale, the song's introductory Hammond organ solo was inspired by the opening of the Air from Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 3, the so-called “Air on the G String.” Although the two soon part ways melodically and harmonically, I guess one might say that the memory lingers on. Even where Bach isn't quoted, these songs have melodies that at least partly suggest Baroque influences. It was Mikkelsen's self-imposed task, in these transcriptions (which are entirely his), to bring out the incipient Bach or Baroque turn of phrase, rather than to stir big chunks of Bach chocolate into melted rock cheese, which would not be as clever. Also, Mikkelsen juxtaposes the rock songs with actual works by Bach, allowing the listener to compare. Quite often, the selections flow seamlessly into each other, making it difficult to determine where Bach ends and rock begins. I'm sure that was Mikkelsen's intention.
Part of me wonders who the audience for this CD is. (Not everyone is as weird as I am, after all.) I decided, though, that my question was tantamount to demanding a discrete label for the music on this CD. Because I don't like labels, I am going to withdraw the question and state that this CD is for anyone who might be amused or excited by it, no matter which genre they usually align themselves with. Let us not forget that today's Pink Floyd or Procol Harum listener is as likely to be a septuagenarian as a college student, or more likely to be a grandparent than a grandchild. I laughed at hearing Light My Fire on a pipe organ (partly because I really don't care for Jim Morrison and The Doors, and never have), but the novelty quickly passed, but I left still impressed that Mikkelsen had the idea in the first place. (Mikkelsen is even faithful, relatively speaking, to Doors's keyboard player Ray Manzarek's tiresome noodling in this song.) It probably is no longer possible to take Bohemian Rhapsody seriously, but that's neither Mikkelson's fault nor Queen's. (Instead, let's blame Wayne's World.)
Mikkelsen's organ lives in Royal Danish Academy of Music. (That's good. A special dispensation—and a spray bottle of holy water—might have been needed to record this program in a church.) He doesn't insist on playing the modern material in (modern) period style, nor are the works by Bach given the authentic performance practice treatment. It should go without saying that this program isn't about scholarship, but neither is it about silliness or casual “Classical Lite” entertainment. My best advice is for you is to meet him halfway, not to think about it too much, and just to let this happening happen. Today's popular music, which is generally inferior to pop/rock music from the previous century, would be much improved if its musicians had learned a little Bach when they first started taking piano lessons. Mikkelsen points the way. Raymond Tuttle

4 stars: Mikkelsen's exploration of Bach's influence on classic rock songwriting is artistically valid and has been carried out with skill

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