To play the music of Johann Sebastian Bach well, a knack for sonic alchemy is required. One must be able to make swirling waves of chordal density—the original sheets of sound—feel both propulsive and calm, a deep grounding that’s simultaneously an invitation to travel the world.
On this disc, Brad Mehldau gives himself further challenges: to transpose works meant for harpsichord to the piano, whose blockier notes contrast with the former’s radiant numinosity, and to respond to those works with pieces of his own. Mehldau’s light touch, which feels like the quiet revival of a sleeping musical power, is evident on Prelude No. 3 in C# Major, from Book I of The Well-Tempered Clavier. Bach was not a pastoralist, but Mehldau imbues something of the empyrean. We can also detect little hints of boogie-woogie-type chording; Bach, after all, loved a good rolling bass figure as the anchor for airier harmonics.