in: Reviews

September 9, 2013

More Classical than Jazz at the Maverick

by

Dan Tepfer (John Guillemin photo)

Dan Tepfer (John Guillemin photo)

I’m not accusing Maverick Concerts of false advertising, in the billing of pianist Dan Tepfer’s concert on Saturday, Sept. 7. It was listed as part of the “Jazz at the Maverick” series. Tepfer is known as a jazz pianist, and he did improvise his own variations on Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations. But this concert fell as squarely between two genres of music as any I’ve ever heard.

Tepfer did play all of the “Goldberg” Variations, as written. In general, he played them quite well. There were enough memory slips (which, being a skilled improviser, he covered very well) and other shaky moments to suggest that Tepfer is not a full time classical pianist. But even without his own improvisations, I would rather have heard Tepfer’s Bach than, for example, the awful exaggerations of Simone Dinnerstein. He played Bach with clarity and style and obviously enough technique to play the often-difficult music.

In between each of Bach’s variations, Tepfer improvised his own. I am not often fond
of jazzed-up Bach, which usually seems to trivialize the music. The famous Jacques Loussier Trio’s Bach recordings usually strike me that way. But Tepfer takes the music very seriously, and his improvisations often succeeded as interesting takes on Bach’s musical ideas. His improvising style did not sound like pure jazz to me, but rather an alternation and sometimes an amalgam of jazz, Baroque, and contemporary classical styles. If a musician like Frederic Rzewski had played this concert, presenters would certainly have considered it a classical concert.

We’ll never know what a performance of this music by Bach, or by Goldberg (the student he wrote it for), would have sounded like. But from what we know of Baroque performance practice, we can be reasonably sure that any Baroque performer would have contributed improvised variations on any repeated music, including these pieces. I wonder if even Tepfer realizes how close to proper Baroque practice he comes. And if he ever decided to do all his improvisations in Baroque style, he would be totally authentic.

That’s not necessary, though. I enjoyed hearing Tepfer’s musical mind and adept fingers go to work on the “Goldberg” Variations. I know it would be different, but I’d love to hear him do it again.

Leslie Gerber, who lives in Woodstock, New York, has been reviewing professionally since 1966, for such venues as Performance Today, Fanfare, and Amazon.com. He also publishes the Parnassus Records label.

2 Comments

  1. “the awful exaggerations of Simone Dinnerstein…”

    Yes indeed! Explain what her reputation is about?

    Comment by Raro — September 22, 2013 at 11:15 am

  2. Re: “the awful exaggerations of Simone Dinnerstein…”

    I read in the Comments heading that uncivil comments will be removed, but that rule apparently does not apply to the review. Mr. Gerber is right about one thing: we’ll never know what a performance of this music would have sounded like at the hands of JS Bach. We are reasonably sure, though, that improvisation and variation were to be expected – indeed, hoped for – particularly in matters of ornamentation. I find Gerber’s airing of his personal distaste for a particular performer not connected in any way to the concert under review to be utterly gratuitous.

    I also happen to hear things differently from him and Raro. Having sat for dozens of Goldbergs in Boston and New York over the last 40 years of avid concert-going and record-collecting, I can’t recall a single performance more enthralling and satisfying than Simone Dinnerstein’s Gordon College recital this past spring. There was absolutely nothing awful about any of it, except insofar as many in the audience were awestruck at her dazzling fingers, wise heart, and overflowing invention.

    Perhaps evenings like that have something to do with “what her reputation is about”, Raro. Or perhaps you weren’t really asking.

    Comment by nimitta — September 23, 2013 at 8:24 pm

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