Intended both to celebrate the Moog synthesizer’s 50th anniversary and the 10th anniversary of the passing of Moog founder Bob Moog himself as well as the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, Craig Leon’s Bach to Moog: A Realisation for Electronics and Orchestra manages to pay homage to all those things but also to emerge fully formed as an album of admirable music in its own right. Having been a fan of 1968’s Switched-On Bach by Wendy Carlos, also an album based on a collection of pieces by Bach performed on a Moog synthesizer, I’ll admit that part of my reason for picking up this new work by Mr. Leon is that I was hoping for something in a similar vein.
Imagine my surprise as the album unfolded and I discovered that Bach to Moog is no continuation of that quirky former work but is instead a creative space where a true artist is playing his craft. Playing a Moog 55 modular synthesizer – built to duplicate and modernize the sound of classic Moog synths – Mr. Leon allows us a glimpse into different possibilities of the music itself as opposed to what could have simply sounded like a novelty release.
Instead, Mr. Leon, violinist Jennifer Pike, and the Sinfonietta Cracovia under Mr. Leon’s direction give listeners much more than that. Listeners lucky enough to pick up this album will find themselves delightfully treated to a collection of modern performances of some of Bach’s loveliest selections from his canon. They may not even notice the Moog save for an occasional moment where a particularly “electronic” note drops.
In some ways, that might be something that could be classified as a failing of this album, I suppose. Here is this release that is supposed to be a sonic celebration of a particular instrument, and the instrument itself simply blends into the music with all of the other instruments – not invisible but also not a shining star leading the way. Thinking that, however, would be an error.
What better way is there to showcase the musical possibilities of the “lowly” synthesizer than to show how it blends, soars, and works into these compositions as nothing more or less than another instrument? I can’t think of any, personally.
We all know the music of Bach. We all know what we usually think of when someone mentions synthesizer music. All of us may have an idea of how those two would – or would not – work together. What we didn’t know – at least the royal we in this case – was how right and how wrong we were.
This may not be the classical CD that breaks down the doors and jumps right into top rotation in your stereo, but it certainly deserves to be on that shelf next to your other classical albums. More than that, actually, it deserves a turn.
More than one, even.