“Thomas Bartlett doesn’t hog the spotlight…
He applies his classical piano training for atmosphere and delicacy, not acrobatics.”
– The New York Times
Acclaimed pianist/composer/producer Thomas Bartlett has released his new solo recording of Johann Sebastian Bach’s French Suites today.
STREAM/DOWNLOAD TO BACH: FRENCH SUITES
Thomas Bartlett’s remarkable career has seen the musician, composer, and producer performing around the world both as Doveman and alongside The National, David Byrne, Nico Muhly, Anohni, Rufus Wainwright, and his own group, The Gloaming. As a producer, Bartlett has collaborated with an equally impressive array of diverse but like-minded artists, including St. Vincent, Florence and the Machine, Yoko Ono, Mandy Patinkin, and Sufjan Stevens, with whom he earned Academy Award and GRAMMY® Award nominations for “Mystery of Love,” featured on the soundtrack to the 2017 film, Call Me By Your Name.
Bach: French Suites marks the latest in Bartlett’s ongoing series of solo piano recordings begun with 2020’s Shelter, an acclaimed collection of original compositions that NPR’s Bob Boilen called “beautiful.”
Composed by Bach for the harpsichord between the years of 1722 and 1725, the French Suites have famously been performed by such contemporary virtuosos as András Schiff and Glenn Gould. Bartlett’s earliest memory of falling in love with music was hearing the measured, mathematical Suite No. 3 in B Minor, at the age of 11.
“As the melody unfolded, somehow both improvisatory and inevitable” he recalls, “it felt like it was rearranging my insides.”
In 2020, with the first lockdown ending, Bartlett traveled to England to be with his partner, actress Ella Hunt, spending a month holed up in an old farmhouse in her native Devon. He found himself returning to classical repertoire from his childhood, and, at Hunt’s suggestion, prepared a piano recital for her parents, which included the Suite No. 3 in B Minor. Recorded in New York over four days the following spring, Bartlett’s rendition of the French Suites is a homecoming record – a return to Bach, a return to domestic happiness, and a recovery (or at least a respite) from the social and political horrors of the past year.
“It comes from a place of contentment and stillness, for sure,” says Bartlett.
Bartlett’s recording process was straightforward, using his studio neighbor Nico Muhly’s printer to run off copies of each movement, which he taped to his upright Yamaha piano. Taking it one suite at a time allowed Bartlett to find his perfect flow state, and as a result, these new recordings offer a truly distinct take on the French Suites.
“There’s a way in which it feels like hubris for me to release Bach recordings,” Bartlett says, “because my technical limitations are real, and I love so many of the recordings that exist, so it feels presumptuous for me to be like, Here’s my take. But the other side of that is that, with Bach, I do have a way that I really like it to be played.”
Where traditional renditions can be bright and bracing, Bartlett’s gentle, precise playing provides a kind of gateway to guide unfamiliar listeners to Bach, offering a chance to exhale at a time when the need for peace and stillness could not be greater.