Joseph Fleetwood


I struggle to find something unique to say about the music of J.S. Bach, an extremely difficult task for a composer who died in 1750—almost 300 years ago. It is clear, however, that his music has remained relevant to this day. Like many, the first time I remember hearing the music of Bach was with the wonderfully eclectic recordings of Glenn Gould. Since then, I have had the pleasure of hearing many recordings of Bach’s music, and I have enjoyed playing some of them myself. Edwin Fischer, a legendary figure from the piano’s golden age, would tell a pupil, “When in trouble, play Bach.” Many pianists would seem to agree with Fischer, as there is no shortage of exquisite recordings of Bach’s music.

Joseph Fleetwood, a pianist with a refined touch and relaxed manner, has found his career gaining momentum in recent years. He has been awarded the Narramore Fellowship from the University of Alabama, where he pursues his Doctor of Musical Arts Degree in Piano Performance. But his academic studies haven’t kept him from releasing this wonderful set of performances of Bach’s six partitas for keyboard. J.S. Bach: The Six Partitas shows Fleetwood in fine form as he works through these keyboard suites. It appears that many would share the same opinion as me—the album, released in 2020 by Sheva Collection, has now sold over 720,000 copies.

This collection groups the partitas by key. The first disc contains the three major key suites, and the second is dedicated to the minor key pieces. The playing is pristine, with a full, singing tone that Fleetwood coaxes from the Yamaha CFX concert grand featured on the recording. The tempo choices for all the partitas are deliberate and thoughtful. Attention is paid to the details—the differing voices and how they all blend on the piano. This is a refreshing change of pace from what feels like the increasingly hectic interpretations of others, as if the pianists are trying to win a race and see who can get to the finish line. While nothing is wrong with faster interpretations, many of which can be exhilarating, the measured choices and broader tempi allow the listener to keep up and enjoy the many delightful details in this complex music. When taking a slower approach, there is always the risk of the pace dragging, leaving the listener bored and waiting for the whole affair to end. But that is not the case here, and Fleetwood’s temporal judgment maximizes the sense of cohesion in each partita, elevating them above a mere collection of dance movements.

The result is an enjoyable experience. While listening, I found my eyes closed and my senses soaring with all the twists and turns found in the working parts of these pieces. A standout moment in the Ouvertüre of Partita No. 4 in D Major, BWV 828, felt the gentle singing of the highest voice bouncing gracefully, dancing along—a captivating performance. This set is full of such moments.

The music is made to sound easy throughout—Bach himself said that he had composed them for music lovers, and at his own expense, published them together as his Opus 1. For those new to listening to Baroque music, these pieces were not written for the piano. Like most Baroque music, the label keyboard can go for several instruments: in addition to the piano, the harpsichord, organ, and clavichord. These latter instruments are more likely what this music was meant for rather than the piano. One would not be able to tell this by Fleetwood’s performances, though, with each piece sounding natural on our more modern and robust concert grand.

J.S. Bach: The Six Partitas stands out from the pack with Joseph Fleetwood’s stellar playing, attention to detail, and gorgeous tone on showcase. If one has not listened to Bach’s keyboard works, this album is the perfect board for diving into the deep end. I invite anyone to sit back, relax with a drink of choice (whisky on the rocks for myself) and let the music of these suites wash over them.

The Kanneh-Mason Family


I have always been a fan of classical music at work in other art forms, whether performance art, poetry, or photography. However, in my opinion, the choice of music in many artful amalgamations is relatively safe, verging on mundane. The often paired Pictures at an Exhibition (Mussorgsky) and visual media come to mind. But the Kanneh-Masons’ debut album, Carnival of the Animals, is anything but mundane

This collaboration sees the Kanneh-Masons – a family supergroup of seven siblings, all classical music prodigies – team up with Michael Morpurgo and Olivia Coleman.

Micheal Morpurgo, known for the novel War Horse (adapted into a film by Steven Spielberg in 2011), provides poetry and narration.  While Academy Award winner and star of The Crown, Olivia Coleman, also contributes as a narrator on the album. 

You might recognize the Kanneh-Mason family name as some of the siblings have already enjoyed high-profile gigs. Sheku Kanneh-Mason played at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding and has released several critically acclaimed pieces for the cello. His older sister, Isata Kanneh-Mason, had a strong debut with Romance – the Piano Music of Clara Schumann.  A personal favorite album is her new release, Summertime, from July of 2021, featuring American composers.

The centerpiece of Carnival of the Animals is the lovely suite for a chamber group of the same name.  Here the music is woven with poetry, each providing context imagery and humor to the music.  The music is wonderfully played, and the whole performance gives the work a storybook quality, a vibe heightened by the cover art, which depicts the Kanneh-Masons as cartoons surrounded by animals.

Carnival of the Animals has always been a funny work, with some of the movements named after animals. As it progresses, it seems to juxtapose humans and animals by capturing pianists in their natural habitat, running scales, and finger exercises as two pianos slowly lose time with one another.  The poetry is never distracting, giving each movement an excellent introduction.  One funny moment happens before the movement “The Cuckoo in the Depths of the Woods,” which has a poem that plays up the humor as the clarinet joins in early with the narrator. One can’t help but hear “Cuckoo” every following time we hear the solo clarinet.

The second half of the album doesn’t fair as strongly, though. The second half is a short story of sorts. “Grandpa Christmas” is excellent and sentimental in its own right, but the synthesis we find in “Carnival of the Animals” is missing.  The music is a variety of different composers and instrument combinations. Here we have pieces of Edvard Grieg, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Bela Bartok, and Eric Whitacre.  They are delightfully realized but do not gel as well with the narration.  Often the narration runs longer than the piece of music (none of which are long), resulting in a disjointed and distracting experience.

The final piece on Carnival is an arrangement of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.”  Overall a pleasant arrangement and warm finale to the album as a whole.  The arrangement was done by the Kanneh-Masons and is delightful.

Carnival of the Animals is a robust initial effort from the Kanneh-Masons and breathes new life into the piece of the same name. The sheer amount of talent put into this album produces a unique performance.  Even though the second half may not be as strong, it is worth a listen.

A Review of Jeeyoon Kim’s Over.Above.Beyond. (Namus Classics, 2018)

Jeffrey Hampton
Covering Contemporary Classical Music Artists
TDR Regular Contributor / June 21, 2021

Over.Above.Beyond. is the 2018 release from pianist Jeeyoon Kim on Namus Classics.  I bought my copy of the CD from the pianist’s website, but it is available on most music streaming platforms.  The liner notes open up with a user’s manual for listening that gives several easy-to-follow steps, providing an original way to enjoy the album.   This user’s manual encourages the listener to take a moment to breathe and be present while listening to the music, cultivating the perfect environment to engage their imaginations. It is recommended that the listener read the liner note for each individual piece which shares Kim’s thoughts and feelings while encouraging the listener to imagine their own scenes that they can look for when out in the real world and share on social media with #OverAboveBeyondProject.

This is a great idea! Listening to classical music can sometimes feel intimidating. But Jeeyoon Kim’s liner notes provide a rather original way to engage with the music for those who want to take the musical journey with her.  The first time listening to this album, I found myself enjoying the small anecdotes from each piece and imagining my own scenery and stories over the music.

The pieces chosen present a variety of composers, displaying some of their easily digestible, shorter works instead of hammering the listener with one titanic warhorse after another.  The first three pieces—Nikolay Medtner’s Forgotten Melodies I, Op. 38, No. 8, Edvard Grieg’s Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, Op. 65, No. 6, and Frederic Chopin’s Nocturne in D-flat major, Op. 27, No. 2—are wonderfully played, showing off fine attention to melody in all three works.  The works are played without an overwrought sense of sentimentality, which could drag the pace of the music.

The next piece, Johannes Brahms’ Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 21 No. 1, spans almost 20 minutes, making it the longest piece on the album.  Kim’s liner notes make clear her love for the piece, which is not often performed.  She encourages the listeners to imagine something different for each variation.  This piece is an emotional journey that needs unpacking, and Kim is up to the task.  The opening theme, easy to follow, is given to us with a thick, full-bodied harmony of luscious chords. Each variation grows organically from the last, and Kim never loses sight of that original theme from Brahms.  The piece, despite its length, never grows dull and is full of many wonderful surprises.  When one reaches the end, they can almost feel the sun on their back after an incredible journey.

The following two pieces are from the famous French impressionist composers Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy.  The pieces are not as heavy as what has come before and are both popular piano solos wonderfully realized here.  “Pavane pour une infante défunte” is both powerful, yet tender.  The music paints a picture of elegance fitting of a pavane, a dance that used to be performed by young princesses in the Spanish court.  Golliwogg’s Cake Walk is a playful romp full of humor.

The next piece is a rarity of a piece by Giuseppe Martucci. The Nocturne in G-flat major, Op. 70, No. 1 is wonderfully melancholic, with once again great attention paid to making the melody sing. Kim’s liner notes describe this one as an image of an old man remembering his past—an apt description of this nostalgic work that could have been written off if played by a lesser musician.

The album ends with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Twelve Variations on “Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman” K.265, a famous set of variations based on a melody most commonly associated with “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” This is the perfect lighthearted way to end the journey.  The playing here is dazzling—playful but elegant and ultimately delightful.   It is the second-longest piece on the album, but that does not weigh it down, as it leaves us feeling refreshed.

The “User’s Manual” provided in the liner notes gives a perfect way to listen to the record overall.  I found myself more engaged as I connected both with the playing shared by the pianist as well as the guidance offered.   I found it easy to picture various images of nature and even some of my own stories with the music. Many times a classical record gives us either a concert program or a collection of pieces all from one genre with no clue of how to engage in it. Personal preference for more programmatic presentations in albums, the idea of the user manual was a breath of fresh air.   None of the music is overwhelming, and it is all aesthetically pleasing to the ear.  Jeeyoon Kim’s playing shines here. It is confidently assured and beautifully realized; the pieces played are melodic and beautiful, but not overly sentimental—a guilty pleasure of a lot of musicians who will drag and distort a melodic line until it is unrecognizable.  For anyone who wants to embark on a thoughtful musical tour, this is the album for you.