- 01 – Sinfonia Ð Partita No. 2 in C Minor BWV 826
- 02 – Allemande Ð French Suite No. 5 in G Major BWV 816
- 03 – Corrente Ð Partita No. 6 in E Minor BWV 830
- 04 – Sarabande Ð French Suite No. 6 in E Major BWV 817
- 05 – Menuet Ð French Suite No. 3 in B Minor BWV 814
- 06 – Aria Ð Partita No. 4 in D Major BWV 828
- 07 – Gigue Ð French Suite No. 1 in D minor BWV 812
- 08 – Prelude Ð English Suite No. 1 in A Major BWV 806
- 09 – Allemande Ð Partita No. 4 in D Major BWV 828
- 10 – Courante Ð French Suite No.6 in E BWV 817
- 11 – Sarabande Ð Partita No. 2 in C Minor BWV 826
- 12 – Tempo di Minuetta Ð Partita No. 5 in G Major BWV 829
- 13 – Polonaise Ð French Suite No. 6 in E Major BWV 817
- 14 – Gigue Ð Partita No.1 in B flat BWV 825
FRED THOMAS – DANCE SUITES
London-based multi-instrumentalist Fred Thomas presents J.S. Bach’s exceptional keyboard music in new and exciting guises on this innovative disc. Performing on the piano, Fred Thomas’s insightful interpretations of Bach’s music are enhanced by an approach pioneered by Glenn Gould: the use of the recording process itself as an independent, creative art form. Using ten microphones in different combinations, placed near or far from the sound source depending on each movement’s character, Fred Thomas has sought to give each piece on this disc the space to inhabit its own, unique soundworld. This process remains relatively under-explored in classical music recording, but has been used on this CD as a meaningful interpretative tool.
A highly versatile musician, Fred Thomas has chosen for this CD a selection of Bach pieces about which he feels passionately. Highlights include the epic opening Sinfonia from BWV 826, dignified Sarabande from BWV 817, and imposing Gigue (BWV 812); the warmth and playfulness of the Allemande (BWV 816) and broad humour of the Aria (BWV 828); the radiant Courante (BWV 817); and the deep serenity of the Prelude, BWV 806. Fred Thomas explores the individual character of each piece with great sensitivity, creating a nuanced and intimate recital sure to persuade the listener into hearing Bach in new ways.
Fred Thomas brings to this disc his wealth of musical experience in different genres. Projects include The Beguilers, a quartet that interprets Thomas’s song settings of poetry in English; a duo with his violinist father, Peter Thomas; a sextet with Martin Speake that explores polyphony in jazz improvisation; and a tribute to Richard Wagner with jazz pianist Liam Noble.
Booklet in English, German and French.
Program notes by Fred Thomas.
“Pianist Fred Thomas gives a Chopinesque reading of JS Bach’s justly famed Dance Suites… You can even feel a gentle swing to “Menuet,” which hints at the bebop era… Impressive and attractive”.
Jazz Weekly - George W. Harris / 15 January 2018
“300 YEARS AND STILL STRONG…
Pianist Fred Thomas gives a Chopinesque read of JS Bach’s justly famed Dance Suites. Wisely using piano over the original harpsichord, Thomas is able to give extra dynamics to pieces such as “Allemande” and “Sarabande” by gently adding or distracting his fingers to the ivories. Even more important is that Thomas avoids the land mine of stiffly interpreting the almost mathematical compositions, allowing “Sourante” and “Polonaise” to justifiably breath, making the music more suitable to modern ears. You can even feel a gentle swing to “Menuet,” which hints at the bebop era, only missing the syncopation and flatted 5ths. Impressive and attractive”
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
As a pianist, this new Bach one on Odradek I think.
Meet the Artist - The Cross-Eyed Pianist / 16 February 2018
Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?
I never really thought of it as a choice, it just happened. My surroundings as a kid made it pretty inevitable [Fred’s father is violinist Peter Thomas], or at least that’s how it feels. But I would venture to say that none of us really has a choice anyway! So I just accept it and enjoy it and go along with it.
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
Hmmm… the universe? That’s a hard question… some of my favourite musicians are Lester Young, Joao Gilberto, Charlie Haden, Elliott Carter, Bach. Maybe there’s something that links all those people, I’m not sure… something about elegance and carefulness maybe. I can’t separate the influences on my musical life and the influences on simply me. I try to be into lots of things so that when I play it sounds like I’m not just a pianist, but an interesting person. I think cats have influenced me a lot though, too.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
Finding a way that feels comfortable and personal playing jazz piano without being drowned by powerful influences and ending up sounding just like someone else. Also, balancing the desire to be a polymath and someone very specialized… Coming to terms with the huge pros and but also the problems of being into so many styles of music. It’s hard to make peace with that. Finding the strength to compose is sometimes pretty hard when there are people like J.S. Bach around… I just want to spend my time with him instead.
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
As a pianist, this new Bach one on Odradek I think. As a producer, I made a very creative record with Lily Luca that I still like. I also made a duo record with my violinist dad that means a lot to me. But generally it’s hard to be excited about old work, and the next project is always way more interesting and fun.
Which particular works do you think you play best?
Those which I love and feel most aligned with.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
My choices relate to what I happen to be interested in at the time. I play all sorts of music and I’m a composer and producer. They all feed into each other, although sometimes you have to put up big barriers between them to kind of protect them from each other… co-existing with different styles requires a lot of… intellectual discipline… I think that’s it.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
Jamboree, in London: unpretentious, nice vibes, mixed crowd. I find the homogeneity of the average classical venue audience to be quite disturbing, with little attempt to be inclusive in relation to age, race or class. I do find myself going to the Wigmore Hall a lot because they have such great musicians playing great music but politically this type of institution makes me pretty uncomfortable. So my favourite venues usually play other types of music.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
Probably hearing Mahler’s Third Symphony for the first time.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
I think I dislike the concept of success but I guess I would say that my arbitrary definition is to be a nice person and find a way to truly come across as yourself through whatever instrument or style you choose.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
I think it would be good if musicians realised how revealing it is to play music. You can see people so clearly. That has implications. I would say that generosity is the musical quality I most value: doing what’s right for the music or trying to make someone else sound amazing. If you can do that whilst also being very individual then that’s amazing. But how those two intersect is obviously very hard.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
I hope that, wherever or whatever that is, it’s better than I can imagine now, which is already great.
What is your most treasured possession?
What is your present state of mind?
Confused by the chasmic implications these questions draw my attention to.
Fred Thomas’s CD Dance Suites is available now on the Odradek label. More information
Fred Thomas studied at the Royal Academy of Music and is one of London’s most sought-after multi-instrumentalists and composer/arranger/producers. A member of the F-IRE Collective, he recently embarked on a trilogy of J.S. Bach recordings to be released on ECM, The Silent Howl and Odradek Records. His first is a trio with Aisha Orazbayeva and Lucy Railton that plays Thomas’s transcriptions of Bach’s Chorale Preludes, the scores of which are published by Edition Wilhelm Hansen. His second, ‘Electrofeit‘, is a solo organ record and featured the multi-tracking of fugues inspired by the work of historian Hayden White.
Other projects include The Beguilers, a sextet that interprets Thomas’s song settings of poetry; his Polyphonic Jazz Band, a quintet with Martin Speake that explores improvised polyphony; a trio with Maurizio Ravalico and actor Gary Cooper that pits improvised music for prepared piano and percussion against prose-poems; an ongoing recording of contemporary interpretations of the medieval Chantilly Codex; a duo with his violinist father Peter Thomas; and a Richard Wagner tribute band with jazz pianist Liam Noble.
Fred Thomas has appeared or collaborated with a wide variety of artists, including Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Jordi Savall, Jarvis Cocker, Ethan Iverson, Tamara Stefanovich, Basquiat Strings, Kadialy Kouyate, Leo Abrahams, Lisa Knapp, Mor Karbasi, CBSO, Elysian Quartet, Jason Yarde, Julian Siegel, Alice Zawadzki, Jiri Slavik, Zac Gvi, Pete Flood, The Magic Lantern, Seb Rochford, Oren Marshall and Olivia Chaney, as well as record labels Harmonica Mundi and Realworld. He has worked at The National Theatre and has toured worldwide with Filter Theatre and as musical director with Shakespeare’s Globe. He teaches at Trinity Laban and as a producer has recorded albums for many artists in Europe. His most recent compositions, for voice, string quartet and percussion, were commissioned by BitterSuite and Phaedra Ensemble and are being performed internationally and at the Royal Opera House, London.
“This is a fascinating and musicologically daring concept… If it were not for the persuasive pianism and musicality of Thomas, this would be easy to dismiss. It says much that he is almost as persuasive as Perahia in the latter‘s DG recording in the Allemande of the French Suite No 5… Remarkable.”
International Piano Magazine - Colin Clarke / July 2018
“This is a fascinating and musicologically daring concept. The basic form of the Baroque dance suite is maintained, but the actual movements are pick-’n’-mixed from the Partitas and French Suites: we open with a Sinfonia (Partita No 2) before proceeding to an Allemande (French Suite No 5), thence to a Corrente (Partita No 6) and so on. Two such ‘complete’ suites are presented.
If it were not for the persuasive pianism and musicality of Thomas, this would be easy to dismiss. It says much that he is almost as persuasive as Perahia in the latter‘s DG recording in the Allemande of the French Suite No 5.
Thomas lists Rosalyn Tureck as principal influence and there is a line of purity from first to last, delivered with a markedly multivalent touch. Remarkable.”
“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… 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… the serious care and thought characterising his acoustic choices happily extend into his pianism.”
Gramophone - Jed Distler / April 2018
“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 Suitesand 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.”
“… his exquisite touch and balancing of voicings (as he shows on his recent Bach album for Odradek) were to the fore…”
London Jazz News
“... his exquisite touch and balancing of voicings (as he shows on his recent Bach album for Odradek) were to the fore…”