Oscar Peterson (piano): Niels-Henning Orstedt Pedersen (bass); Martin Drew (drums)
rec. 1984 for The South Bank Show, ITV, London
Sound formats - PCM Stereo, DD 5.1, DTS 5.1: Picture format - 4:3: Subtitles - D, F, I Region Code - 0, DVD 5 NTSC
Some British viewers may well recall that the Easter Suite was first performed on Melvyn Bragg's South Bank Show in 1984, which presented many wide ranging programmes. This one concentrated on a performance of the suite and an interview about it between Peterson and Bragg, with Niels-Henning Orstedt Pedersen (bass) and Martin Drew (drums) making pertinent contributions as well.
That said, I was puzzled by Marcus Woelfle's booklet notes which claim - I'm assuming Stephan Richter's translation is accurate - that the programme has become `a yearly ritual'. I assume this means on television at Easter. I also assume that by BBC he means ITV. In any case, it's baloney.
The Easter story is a daunting one. It's interesting and in many ways revealing to hear Peterson talk of the descriptive, narrative passages, and his use of specific rhythms, church music, and gospel. It's also good to hear from Pedersen, who is cryptically unconvinced by the work (or so it seems), but plays magnificently nonetheless. Drew demonstrates a military technique to reinforce the trial scene. His work on brushes was always exemplary. When I saw the trio at Ronnie Scott's around this time the evening was magnetic, and Drew played no small part in that energy quotient.
Bragg's questions are engagingly open-ended. Peterson responds candidly and drolly. He doesn't go in for portentousness. I would play the interview segment before watching the unedited suite footage. You'll get a bit of it, not least the jazz waltz allusion. The music is enjoyable but hardly top drawer Peterson, notwithstanding his obvious devotion and commitment. There are strangely unfocused segments. Still, Why Have You Betrayed Me is utterly beautiful - although it sounds like a Jacques Brel song. There's certainly nothing wrong with that, but it hints at the kind of stylistic disunity that abounds in the classical/jazz/Gospel/popular song melange. The hints of Bach and lullaby in Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me are equally strongly felt but it's when Peterson moves away from direct narrative - I'm thinking of the movement that inspires some of his funkiest Blues playing, Are You Really King of the Jews - that he sounds most like `himself'.
This suite has considerable cachet among many Peterson aficionados, so this restored performance, live in the TV studio will be most welcome. The sadness, of course, is that all three musical protagonists are now dead.