|Review by Jan Hanford:|
Wendy Carlos' original Switched-On Bach was truly incredible. It single handedly changed the world of music, making the synthesizer an accepted and immensely popular musical instrument.
First, I realised it was impossible for me to listen to this cd without comparing it to the original Switched-On Bach. When I first heard this new version of the same pieces I hated it. I was so in love with the old analog versions that I felt betrayed. But, after repeated listenings and an effort to psychologically separate my feelings for the original recording from this one, I decided it's not that bad but it's not great either.
Most of the works are nicely done and sometimes even good. However, one particularly unpleasant track is the Prelude No. 2 in C minor. Dissonant, frantic, unmusical: it just sounds terrible. The fugue is a little better, the sounds are more musical, but there are still too many clashing tones.
The inventions are fun, as they are in the original. Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 contains many elements similar to the original but still manages to sound completely different. It has some very nice moments. Once again we have the delightful stereo separation and panning that made the original so much fun. And a large variety of sound textures that constantly shift and change like only Wendy can do. For me, some of the sounds verge too much into the organ category of timbre, with a sustained decay. A major disappointment, however, is her creation of a new "second movement". Her spectacular and delightful second movement created for this concerto on the original Switched-On Bach was so exciting and original that this newly composed movement is just not interesting. The third movement is an extravaganza of sounds and stereo movement and well done.
The addition of the Toccato & Fugue in D minor is outstanding. A truly remarkable performance with excitement, drama and power. For me, it's actually the high point of the cd.
Overall, this recording proves that Wendy Carlos is still the undisputed master of electronic classical music interpretations. There are imitators who don't even come close to her ability to produce synthesized music with intelligence, imagination and outstanding musicianship. I think in this recording she has tried to take the original and bring it into the 90's, which she has accomplished. But it is hard not to keep measuring it to the original. This new recording is basically a collection of nicely done interpretations of these beloved works of Bach with commonplace technology. However, the fact is that they are just "nicely done." The sounds here are not interesting. They're just ordinary electronic sounds which we've heard a thousand times now that it's the '90's and synthesizers are a common household item. Once strange and exciting, synthesized music is now everywhere and, as listeners, some of us are not as easy to please or excite as we were in 1968.
Wendy Carlos' back catalog of Switched-On Bach recordings has been re-released in Switched-On Boxed Set, including the exquisitely beautiful Well-Tempered Synthesizer. Now that's something to get excited about, it's fabulous!