Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos seen through a swinging jazz lens

The Strad Issue: September 2019

Description: Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos seen through a swinging jazz lens

Musicians: Tim Kliphuis (violin) Nigel Clark (guitar)1 Roy Percy (double bass) Stellenbosch University Camerata, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra/Richard Cock

Works: BACH/KLIPHUIS Brandenburg KLIPHUIS Violin Concerto ‘Ulysses’

Catalogue Number: SONY CLASSICAL 190758895628

The Dutch jazz violinist Tim Kliphuis had a hit with his 2016 record Reflecting the Seasons, an improvisatory reinterpretation of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, which, surprisingly, brought something genuinely new – and often moving – to the most famous score in classical music. Kliphuis repeats the trick on Concertos, deconstructing a Baroque masterpiece and then rebuilding and playing with it. This time it is Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos that Kliphuis is injecting with new improvisatory ideas (improvisation being ‘an art lost to classical music’, as he states in the liner notes).

Over five movements, drawn from themes from Bach’s six works (for example, the first track here is based on the third movement of Concerto no.1), Kliphuis’s arrangements sometimes sound eerily similar to the original, with recorders, horns and strings in full glory. But there is always a hint that we are in different territory, with a touch of swing here or a full-on diversion into a violin and guitar solo there. The slow movements – languid, reflective – tend to be more freeform than the tighter faster movements. Altogether, as before, the results are enjoyable, evocative, sometimes even radiant, even if Bach’s music, less spacious than Vivaldi’s, leaves fewer opportunities for transformation.

Alongside Brandenburg, Kliphuis presents his own violin concerto, sub-titled ‘Ulysses’, recorded with the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra. This concerto is open, melodic and swinging, and contains sections for freestyle playing. Composed on the traditional three-movement form, it feels oddly traditional against the Bach arrangements, but is no less enjoyable for it.