Walter Saul’s Succinct, Delightful Preludes and Fugues

Review by: Jed Distler

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Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 6

A good distributor makes a difference. Why else would this 2002 release have just reached me for review purposes in 2014? It happily brings the music of Walter Saul to my attention. Dr. Saul is a composer, pianist, and educator based in Fresno, California, whose prolific creative output covers a wide range of genres, including a large catalog of sacred music. In fact, when I placed his 24 Preludes and Fugues into my computer disc drive, the Gracenote database genre-listing read “Pop” rather than “Classical”. Although these are indeed through-composed works, a contemporary and sophisticated pop sensibility informs much of Saul’s piano writing, as does his penchant for uneven meters, frequent chromatic twists and turns, and unexpected detours of modulation.

The D major Prelude evokes the image of Billy Joel meets Prokofiev meets Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms first movement. The E minor Fugue begins as faux Bach, but then Michel Legrand’s spirit steps in when the music suddenly modulates into G minor. By contrast, the F minor Prelude and Fugue might be described as a less dour rewrite of a Hindemith Ludus Tonalis movement, while the A-flat Fugue is pure, unadulterated blues and boogie-woogie.

Saul generally plays his own music well. He digs into the large-scale G-sharp minor Prelude’s declamatory, pillar-like octaves and dissonant chords with plenty of gusto, while sensitively shaping the F-sharp major Fugue’s lyrical exposition. Yet while Saul can write convincing and genuinely idiomatic jazz, he plays these movements stiffly. For instance, the Dave Brubeckian A-flat Prelude’s “bridge” features walking bass lines and syncopated right-hand melodic punctuations that cry out for a sense of “swing” that Saul doesn’t convey here. Nor does the engineering’s extremely close and dynamically limited ambience make a positive impression. Whether or not Saul’s Preludes and Fugues will prepare students for Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier as the composer claims, these unpretentious, succinct, inventive, and extremely accessible pieces are bound to delight both pianists and audiences.



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Recording Details:

  • SAUL, WALTER:
    24 Preludes & Fugues in all the Major and Minor Keys
  • Walter Saul (piano)

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