Cameron Carpenter, the only Grammy-nominated solo organist in history, is the artist behind Cameron Live! in every sense of the word.
Not content to co-produce the DVD, and perform both the DVD and the CD, the multi-talented Carpenter also designed the album package, reflecting a balanced duality of two completely different discs in a single musicalRead more offering. It’s a fitting artistic expression from a young virtuoso who lives and performs in the 21st Century, but whose genre-bending compositions, arrangements, and virtuoso performances have placed him in the ranks of 19th and 20th Century greats like Horowitz, Paganini, and Liszt.
For CAMERON LIVE! The DVD – quite possibly the most exciting “serious” music DVD ever made – Carpenter performed on a four-manual Wurlitzer organ (from silent film’s heyday) in the Hardman Studio in front of three HD cameras. The DVD includes two world premiere recordings of his own works (Three Intermezzi for Cinema Organ and Will o’ the Wisp from Fifteen Inventions on Chopin’s Etudes), his now-famous arrangement of Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever (the first to faithfully retain each line of counterpoint to the end), and other works by Shostakovich, Schubert, Liszt and others. As a complement to the companion all-Bach audio disc, Carpenter even performs one work by Bach –– the Prelude and Fugue No. 5 from Book One of The Well-Tempered Clavier – on his own practice organ, which was transported to the Hardman Studio in Virginia for the recording. Performing repertoire that would be unusual for any organ, Carpenter also provides a welcome introduction to each work on the DVD.
In addition to Carpenter’s extraordinary new performances produced by Cameron and his director, Katy Scoggin, with 5.1 surround sound audio by MobileMaster, the DVD also includes footage from Berlin and New York live concerts, and a clip of Chopin’s Revolutionary Etude, from which Carpenter’s Grammy®-nominated REVOLUTIONARY (Telarc, 2008) draws its title.
The second disc, CAMERON LIVE! The CD, is a live concert recording from The Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, one of the most famous churches in New York, whose top-notch acoustics and Carpenter’s ground-breaking performances make this disc perhaps one of the most intriguing Bach CDs recorded today. Aspiring to excellence in every aspect of this project, Carpenter’s superb performances on the audio disc were recorded on an organ that sits among the greatest, unparalleled in quality (except perhaps among 21st Century virtual pipe organs): a large Aeolian-Skinner from 1933, which was generously added to in the 1990s according to the original design by G. Donald Harrison, its designer and the creator of the “American Classic” organ.
On this disc – produced by Robert Woods and engineered by Robert Friedrich, both long-time Telarc geniuses – Carpenter brings his own unique perspective to Bach works like Toccata and Fugue in F Major, (BWV 540), which he chose to play in F#, a viciously difficult key—for anyone except Carpenter. (The CD program notes, included in a deluxe, full-color 12-page booklet, will explain his choice.) Five Bach preludes and fugues, continuing the “circle of fifths,” follow: B Minor, E Minor, A Minor, D Major, and G Major, the last one with an improvised contemporary cadenza that makes this piece unmistakably his own. For the completion of this live recording, Carpenter composed Serenade and Fugue on B.A.C.H. with a lovely, lyrical, almost popular first movement and a complex fugal second movement—within which the B.A.C.H. theme is stated, in various forms, more than fifty-five times.
What could possibly contain three and a half hours of sublime music, a project that is so exorbitantly special, as is the artist? A double-thick “butterfly” album case and artwork designed by Carpenter himself that manages to balance both projects equally with a startling accomplishment of two front covers, equally as disparate. For the DVD, the cover is suitably outrageous: Noel Coward meets Janis Joplin in her backstage dressing room (actually, Carpenter photographed in his New York East Village apartment). Flip the album over to find the other front, in stark contrast: Carpenter in jeans, silver boots and a t-shirt that proclaims MUSIC IS IT, reminding the listener that despite his attention to detail on the outside, it’s what they see and hear on the discs inside that matters.
BACH Toccata in F? (originally F), BWV 540; Preludes and Fugues: in b, BWV 544; in e, BWV 548; in a, BWV543; in D, BWV 532; in G, BWV 541. CARPENTER Improvised Cadenza; Serenade and Fugue on BACH
& DVD: SHOSTAKOVICH-CARPENTER Festive Overture. SCHUBERT-CARPENTER Erlkönig. CARPENTER 3 Intermezzi for Cinema Organ. LISZT-CARPENTER Funérailles. MOSZKOWSKI-CARPENTER Étincelles. LISZT-CARPENTER Au bord d’une source. VIERNE Naïades. WIDOR Symphony No. 5: Toccata. CARPENTER Will o’ the Wisp (after Chopin’s Etude, op. 10/2). SOUSA-CARPENTER The Stars and Stripes Forever. BACH-CARPENTER WTC Book 1: Prelude and Fugue in D. DEBUSSY-CARPENTER Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune. CARPENTER Homage to Klaus Kinski. CHOPIN-CARPENTER “Revolutionary” Etude
Cameron Carpenter, an organist to whom I was introduced by the present recital, is a unique personality, and, at least from what I have witnessed by the visual performances on the accompanying DVD, an extremely talented mechanical wizard. There have been few organists that I’ve come across who can do with their hands what Carpenter can so easily do with his feet—one needs only to witness his impressive dexterity in his own transcription of Chopin’s “Revolutionary” Etude, in which Carpenter plays the entire left-hand part of the original with his feet alone! And even if that were the most impressive playing on the DVD, the disc would still be well worth the asking price. Fortunately, there are many such moments of technical splendor: the impossibly difficult and quite colorful rendition of Sousa’s Stars and Stripes march, the dazzling and playful account of Moszkowski’s Étincelles (known to most of us through Horowitz’s magical account), or his grand and noble way with Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in D Major from the first book of the Well-Tempered Clavier.
Carpenter relishes one major facet of the organ, the ability to vary timbre to suit his own ideas. This is sometimes magical, as in the aforementioned Sousa example, and sometimes corny, as in his rendition of Schubert’s Erlkönig, in which, after a while, the ghostly voice of the Erl-King is more annoying than interesting. Oftentimes, less is more, and this is one of the most obvious examples in the recital. Other times, his choices are downright confusing. His decision to begin Widor’s well-known Toccata extremely softly is a personal choice—one that he seems to feel the need to justify in the interview portion of the piece, with the simple reasoning that the performer has the right to do with the music what he (or she) deems best. I’m sure Glenn Gould would have approved of that sentiment; Widor perhaps not.
Carpenter may also be unique in his view of the literature of his instrument. The comment in which he states that he prefers to play the Well-Tempered Clavier on the organ to most of Bach’s works originally written for the instrument is enlightening in a way. He sees virtually no limitations on transcribing from whatever sources he deems fit, though he has reached the point, at least at the moment, where he sees most big orchestral pieces better suited to their original settings. And, though much has been made of the transcriptions—and indeed it is here where he makes his biggest and best impression—one should not discount his playing on the CD portion of this release. His ideas on Bach, while sometimes almost too colorful for me—his way of changing timbre every measure or two in the B-Minor Prelude, BWV 544, sounds schizophrenic at times—are often revealing in their unique take on some of the standards of the literature. He seems to perceive this music in a 21st-century way, perhaps too liberal for some, but often he finds aspects of the music that, at least to my ears, have not yet been heard. Though I too do not always agree with all of his decisions—and musically speaking, there is still a need to mature, time in which I hope that he will grow with this music—often, when one just listens, one is convinced.
And so the last word on this recital should, perhaps, be left to one of the most interesting musicians of the previous century, Shura Cherkassky, who noted that as a performer, “Some people like my playing, and some perhaps don’t. But I don’t think anybody can call me boring.” And so it is with Cameron Carpenter.
A Pleasant SurpriseMay 29, 2019By Bernard Kokocinski (Toledo , OH)See All My Reviews"The cd is an enjoyable sound experience. but the dvd is more so. The advantage of seeing the organist performing adds to the enjoyment of this concert. Additionally, the Sound on the DVD will give your Surround sound system a workout. This is a good Demonstration DVD!"Report Abuse
humorous, delightful, originalSeptember 28, 2012By Stephen T. (Acton, MA)See All My Reviews"Brilliant transcriptions of familiar works for the piano as well as fresh registrations for old chestnuts. Really lots of fun, and technically perfect."Report Abuse