Cameron Carpenter is one of those classical music anomalies: he plays the music, but his approach is anything but classical. He’ll play anything, from Bach to Bacharach, plus his own daring inventions thrown in for good measure, with a questionable (and frequently controversial) sense of style.
This debut disc features his mighty digital touring organ, and begins with the famous Prelude from Bach’s Cello Suite No 1, played only on the foot pedals (why use hands?). This mutates into a monstrous elaboration that barrels and snarls with echoes of Bach blended with circus kitsch. Think Wurlitzer gone wild.
Next is a transcription of Bernstein’s raucous Candide Overture. It’s a brilliant work, which then jumps to the serene Rachmaninov Vocalise. Then one of his own compositions, followed by Piazzolla’s Oblivion. Not to mention his paraphrases of songs like Bacharach’s Alfie and Newley and Bricusse’s Pure Imagination.
The program on the whole is baffling. Carpenter says each work “offers a different taste of ecstasy”, and while he does show off the colour range of the touring organ (and his own reckless brand of virtuosity), it’s a bit of a mess that misses out on the visual magic of his live shows. There are some genuinely beautiful moments, and his musical intelligence is unquestionable: he’s an absolute genius. But is he using his powers for good? It’s really too hard to tell.
Purchase on the iTunes Store: If You Could Read My Mind – Cameron Carpenter