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Great 5 stars review in Fanfare (US)

March 28, 2024

Ken Meltzer

5 stars
Organist Sven-Ingvart Mikkelsen’s ingenious celebration of Bach and Rock

STAIRWAY TO BACH: ROCK CLASSICS WITH A HINT OF BACH  Sven-Ingvart Mikkelsen (org)  OUR RECORDINGS 8.226920 (Streaming audio: 75:25)

THE DOORS Light My Fire (arr. Mikkelsen). BACH Fantasia in G, BWV 572. Bourée, BWV 966 (arr. Jethro Tull/Mikkelsen). Prelude and Fugue in g, BWV 535. Wachet auf, ruft uns die stimme, BWV 645. Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D, BWV 1068: Air (arr. Mikkelsen). SAVAGE ROSE The City Awakes (arr. Mikkelsen). PAGE Stairway to Heaven (arr. Mikkelsen). GILMOUR/WATERS/WRIGHT Shine On You Crazy Diamond (arr. Mikkelsen). MERCURY Bohemian Rhapsody (arr. Mikkelsen). MORRISON/KRIEGER People Are Strange (arr. Mikkelsen). BROOKER Homburg (arr. Mikkelsen). FISHER Repent Walpurgis (arr. Mikkelsen). BROOKER/FISHER A Whiter Shade of Pale (arr. Mikkelsen)

When my publisher sent this recording to me, he wrote: “I haven’t the slightest idea if it will interest you.” As it turns out, Stairway to Bach is a disc that travels right up this reviewer’s alley! I had already been a fan of rock music for several years when, in the 1970s, I was introduced to and fell in love with classical music. Once I caught the classical bug, rock songs that incorporated elements of “serious” music held great interest for me. Whether it was producer George Martin’s pioneering work with The Beatles, songs by Yes, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, or Jethro Tull, Mason Williams’s “Classical Gas,” Elton John’s “Funeral for a Friend,” etc., I was hooked by the fusion of two forms of music I deeply loved. In this regard, Danish organist Sven-Ingvart Mikkelsen is a kindred spirit. In liner notes for his new release, Stairway to Bach: Rock Classics with a Hint of Bach, Mikkelsen writes that he has “worked out a number of organ transcriptions of symphonic rock classics from the 1960s and 1970s. The background to this has been a long-standing musical collaboration with my good friend the violinist Jochen Brusch, with whom I have for a number of years played adaptations of rock classics on our classical instruments, violin and organ, in recognition of the fact that we like to play good music that we care about – irrespective of style, as long as it is good music!”
Mikkelsen continues: “The symphonic rock music of the 1960s and 1970s largely drew its inspiration from classical music, and in particular from the composer Johann Sebastian Bach, sometimes using direct Bach quotations, at other times simply using musical phrases that are reminiscent of ‘old Bach’.” In Stairway to Bach, Mikkelsen performs original Bach works, as well as his arrangements of Bach-influenced rock songs. Mikkelsen explains that in those arrangements: “the connection between Bach and Rock is underlined by a direct interweaving of rock music with quotations from Johann Sebastian Bach, with the result that the music flows together in a patchwork of baroque organ, Bach and symphonic rock.” The first track sets the tone for Mikkelsen’s wondrous exploration. Mikkelsen opens with a portion of the high trumpet solo in the finale of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 that seamlessly morphs into The Doors’ “Light My Fire.” While listening to this sequence, I could not suppress a grin of absolute delight. Such pleasures continue throughout a recital that includes the following rock songs (the groups associated with the songs are in parentheses):

“Light My Fire”, “People Are Strange” (The Doors)
“The City Awakes” (Savage Rose)
“Stairway to Heaven” (Led Zeppelin)
“Bourée (Jethro Tull)
“Shine On You Crazy Diamond” (Pink Floyd)
“Bohemian Rhapsody” (Queen)
“Homburg”, “Repent Walpurgis”, “A Whiter Shade of Pale” (Procol Harum)

All of the arrangements embody Mikkelsen’s ingenious synthesis of Bach and 60s-70s symphonic rock. Indeed, the lines between the two genres often blur, if not disappear. Part of this is due to the brilliance of Mikkelsen’s arrangements. But it is also the product of the respect, elegance, and immaculate playing he invests upon all of the source material. Mikkelsen, without apology, suggests that the rock songs embody a beauty and eloquence that are not dwarfed by J.S. Bach’s music. Of course, Bach had his playful side, too. And Mikkelsen has a grand time with Freddie Mercury/Queen’s more than over-the-top “Bohemian Rhapsody,” sneaking a bit of Bach’s Prelude in E-flat, BWV 552 into the mix. All told, a beautiful, joyous recital, reproduced in gorgeous sound. Recommended! Ken Meltzer

Five stars: Organist Sven-Ingvart Mikkelsen’s ingenious celebration of Bach and Rock

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