ECM New Series releases Fred Thomas's Three Or One - Bach transcriptions, in a new sequence

Fred Thomas: Three Or One

ECM New Series 2640

Release Date: October 22, 2021

Fred Thomas, piano

Aisha Orazbayeva, violin

Lucy Railton, violoncello


On Three Or One, Bach appears in transfigured light. Fred Thomas’ ECM New Series debut presents organ chorale preludes, vocal cantata movements and orchestral sinfonias – 24 pieces in all – transcribed for trio and solo piano by the British pianist, and threaded into a compelling new sequence by Manfred Eicher.

Throughout, Bach’s idiom is thoughtfully explored by three innovative players – a process Thomas describes as “quietly joyful” – and the trio pieces, primarily drawn from Bach’s Orgelbüchlein, acquire a fresh character in the hands of Thomas, violinist Aisha Orazbayeva and cellist Lucy Railton.

Both respectful of the original musical texts but unique in their execution, Thomas’ reformulations strike a rare balance between moderation and innovation. In the process, the pianist draws attention to various techniques used to “separate the voices and avoid the typical blending and blurring of the organ in a church. Particularly interesting to me,” he explains, “was to illuminate how the musical characters interact, sometimes stubbornly ignoring one another as they continue their trajectories, other times moving in separate dimensions, unaware of anything but themselves, and often intertwining in a kind of blissful symbiosis.”

The pianist points to the tradition of improvisation that prevails in baroque music, elucidating his understated approach to Bach’s texts by referring to the spontaneous improvisational design that distinguished the changeable art of counterpoint in Bach’s time. Pointing to the things that were played but not written in the musical text, Thomas notes that “Baroque musicians shared a clear understanding of what the interpreter must contribute.” A skill that translates to the pianist’s fellow interpreters on this recording and, enhanced by their versatile musical backgrounds, helped form these unique adaptations: “That we can’t help but bring too many things to the table is an incitement to creativity. Bach often re-used his own material and it is no surprise it came out differently each time. With his imaginative, technical and improvisatory powers, do we really believe that Bach would play the same thing the same way twice?” It’s a good question, and the key to the approach taken on Three Or One.

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