October 02, 2001
Sony Classical
Classical, Progressive Bluegrass, Bluegrass, Classical Crossover

Album Review

Banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck has certainly broken more boundaries than any other picker in recent memory, from his early days performing bluegrass-inspired folk compositions on Rounder in the late '70s to his quirky jazz freak-outs with the Flecktones throughout the '90s. In late 2001, this peculiar innovator released an album of banjo interpretations of classical works by Bach, Chopin, and Scarlatti. Before classical purists roll their eyes, they must remember that the banjo hasn't always been seen as the instrument of choice of backwoods musicians in the Appalachian mountains, but as recently as the 1940s was used as a primary rhythm instrument in all manner of parlor music. That being said, Perpetual Motion is a bright and unique take on several well-known classical pieces (Moonlight Sonata, Bach's Cello Suite No. 1) as well as a number of interpretations of Bach's two-part and three-part inventions. These light and brief inventions act as buffers between the longer, more dramatic pieces, but end up serving as some of the highlights of the album. With Fleck often accompanied by Evelyn Glennie on marimba and Appalachia Waltz musicians Joshua Bell and Edgar Meyer on violin and bass, these short, delicate pieces weave in and out of the album, proving that the banjo can be seen in a different light altogether. Fleck's picking is uniquely unparalleled in that he can so easily dip his feet into so many different genres with an instrument that is so quickly pigeonholed. The album drifts easily into the background, which is not necessarily a detraction but, knowing the fire that Fleck can unleash from his fingertips, it would have been nice to have a few more impassioned numbers on the album. The closest the ensemble comes to really making some noise is the final track, Paganini's Moto Perpetuo (arranged in a bluegrass style), which is not necessarily more forceful, but is certainly faster and louder.
Zac Johnson, Rovi

Track Listing

  1. Keyboard Sonata in C Major K. 159
  2. Sonata for keyboard in C major, K. 159 (L. 104) "La caccia"
  3. Two-Part Invention, for keyboard No. 13 in A minor, BWV 784 (BC L54)
  4. Two-Part Invention No. 13
  5. Doctor Gradus Ad Parnassum
  6. Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum
  7. Mazurka for piano No. 38 in F sharp minor, Op. 59/3, CT. 88
  8. Mazurka in F-Sharp Minor
  9. Partita No. 3 for Solo Violin (Prelude)
  10. Prelude
  11. Etude in C-Sharp Minor
  12. Etude for piano No. 4 in C sharp minor, Op. 10/4, CT. 17
  13. Mazurka for piano No. 1 in F sharp minor, Op. 6/1, CT. 51
  14. Mazurka in F-Sharp Minor
  15. Three-Part Invention No. 10
  16. Three-Part Invention (Sinfonia), for keyboard No. 10 in G major, BWV 79
  17. Melody in E flat major
  18. Melody in E-Flat
  19. "Presto in G Minor 1 After Bach"
  20. Presto No. 1 in G minor after Bach
  21. Prelude
  22. Suite for Unaccompanied Cello No. 1 (Prelude)
  23. Three-Part Invention No. 15
  24. Three-Part Invention (Sinfonia), for keyboard No. 15 in B minor, BWV 80
  25. Moto perpetuo, for violin & guitar (or orchestra) in C major, Op. 11, M
  26. Moto Perpetuo
  27. Keyboard Sonata in D Minor K. 213
  28. Sonata for keyboard in D minor, K. 213 (L. 108) "The Lover"
  29. Two-Part Invention, for keyboard No. 6 in E major, BWV 777 (BC L47)
  30. Two-Part Invention No. 6
  31. "Adagio Sostenuto"
  32. Adagio sostenuto
  33. Two Part Invention No. 11
  34. Two-Part Invention, for keyboard No. 11 in G minor, BWV 782 (BC L52)
  35. Seven Variations on "God Save the King"
  36. Variations (7) on "God Save the King," for piano in C major, WoO 78
  37. Three-Part Invention (Sinfonia), for keyboard No. 7 in E minor, BWV 793
  38. Three-Part Invention No. 7
  39. Moto Perpetuo (Bluegrass)
  40. Bluegrass Version for banjo & guitar
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