Clas­sics pop­u­larised

The Church of England - - REVIEWS - Jac­ques Loussier My Per­sonal Favourites / Be­yond Bach Tel Arc Derek Walker

When it comes to pop­u­lar­is­ing the clas­sics, few have made more im­pact than Loussier. Not only did his sound­track (“Air on a G String”) make the Ham­let cigar ad­verts iconic, but that in turn in­flu­enced Pro­col Harum in cre­at­ing “A Whiter Shade of Pale.”

Cel­e­brat­ing his 80th birth­day, two dou­ble-disc sets of his best work, se­lected by the pi­anist him­self, are on re­lease.

My Per­sonal Favourites be­gins with “Air on a G String” and does what it says. Bach’s snappy pieces seem de­signed to hold at­ten­tion and their melo­di­ous themes suit im­pro­vi­sa­tion. Loussier’s style can em­pha­sise Bach’s clas­si­cal ori­gins, but nor­mally places the ac­cent strongly on jazz.

Apart from “Toc­cata and Fugue” and “Bran­den­burg Con­certo No. 5,” which each pass the 10-minute mark, th­ese are concise works. With Bach’s sound so well de­fined, both discs flow well to­gether. With tunes as popular as “Jesu, Joy of Man’s De­sir­ing,” the Bach re­lease is bound to be a crowd-pleaser.

The sec­ond set, Be­yond Bach: Other Com­posers I Adore, be­gins with his strengths, but takes a dip in form at the end. Al­ready own­ing his ex­cel­lent al­bum based on Satie’s “Gymno­pe­dies,” I was ex­cited about the pos­si­ble gems on this col­lec­tion. Satie’s work is un­der-rep­re­sented here at eight min­utes, but is su­perb while it lasts.

Un­like Bach and Satie, the Vivaldi pieces are so freely im­pro­vised that much of the com­poser’s style is lost (apart from the strik­ing “Sum­mer” theme). Ravel’s “Bolero,” the long­est piece at 17 min­utes, also has a pow­er­ful theme that al­lows for both strong riff­ing and very free im­pro­vi­sa­tion.

Loussier is of­ten at his best with more del­i­cate pieces and his re-work­ing of his French her­itage with De­bussy’s “Clair de Lune” suc­ceeds well.

The dis­ap­point­ing end is his take on Chopin’s “Noc­turnes.” In­tended as a set that sug­gests swing­ing jazz, it al­most sounds like some­one prac­tis­ing. It is com­pletely out of char­ac­ter with the rest of this gen­er­ous com­pi­la­tion.

As a cel­e­bra­tion of some 60 years of a ground­break­ing ap­proach to genre, this as­sured col­lec­tion re­flects his taste and work well. Largely recorded since the early ‘90s, it also keeps it nicely up-to-date.

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