CD of the Week: Makarski and Jarrett explore Bach sonatas
When violinist Michelle Makarski approached her friend, the pianist Keith Jarrett about playing some Johann Sebastian Bach sonatas, recording those works wasn’t necessarily in their initial plans. In a recent interview with KBIA, Makarski explained that she and Jarrett set out to enjoy each other’s company through playing some favorite Baroque works. The result of that rekindled friendship is the new ECM release of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Six Sonatas for Violin and Piano.
We did all of our playing at Keith’s home in a rural area of New Jersey in his home studio where he has his piano and also his beautiful harpsichord and other instruments that he plays. Very quiet. Completely isolated. He’s designed it so that he can play whenever he wants to. It was a completely enjoyable process.
The friendly process of making music together went well, so Makarski eventually asked Jarrett about his interest in recording the Bach works. At first, Jarrett was reluctant. The NEA Jazz Master was busy with his own recordings, concerts of improvised music and related side projects. The practice sessions went well and Jarrett was eventually sold on the idea of recording their collaboration. Jarrett has recorded classical work before for both piano and harpsichord. Makarski, a graduate of the Interlochen arts Academy and the University of Michigan, was busy at the time teaching masters violin classes using the Alexander Technique.
For this recording session, the duo met in a historic Manhattan venue and were treated to the ECM production process. The German label under founder and producer Manfred Eicher has long been known for creating sound settings that honor a performer’s instrumentation.
We recorded at the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a beautiful building in Harlem in New York on the west side by the Hudson River. The American Academy of Arts and Letters is a society, which is a little like the French academie. You are nominated to it, elected to it. Artists - architects, composers, writers - are elected to this and it is a great, great honor. This is the place where they meet in a ceremonial [performance] each year... For a long time it has been a very, very distinguished recording venue.
Makarski explained that the process of recording with Jarrett and for ECM was unique:
These are not hyper-engineered recordings. They aren’t tweaked for every note being adjusted for sound and hyper-edited. The head of ECM Manfred Eicher has an aesthetic of sound environment that you are playing in as well as much performance aesthetic as possible. [Keith and I] really didn’t set out to do this as a recording project. We just started doing this when we renewed our friendship for the love of playing this music together.
In addition, Keith had not been playing or recording classical recording for the past 15 years... He was not interested in a studio recording... We played and did a few takes of each thing and did not listen to playbacks at all. We had a lot of trust, a lot of risk involved and grace in going through the process.
Bach penned these six sonatas in the late 1710s and early 1720s. Writing on AllMusic.com, Blair Johnson notes that these “sonatas for violin and harpsichord are among Bach's most famous chamber pieces ...[and] the first of these sonatas, BWV 1014 in B minor, is in fact history's very first modern duo sonata.”
Taken as a whole, this sextet of recordings encompasses an amazing range of emotion. Six Sonatas for Violin and Piano is KBIA’s featured CD of the week for November 25 through 29.
Listen for selections from the release weekdays on KBIA.