Thomas Rückert’s gorgeous record, A Rose E’er Blooming comes at a time in 2020, arguably the annus horribilis of the century, and that time is fortuitously at Yuletide, as we – so fatigued by a pandemic – are left grasping at straws of hope. It is a recording that demands unbridled and hyperbolic praise; a recording so good that it makes you want to dance in the street, handing out copies to complete strangers. Drawing on music from baroque Hapsburg-era Germany it combines the sacred and the secular – with an occasional foray into a droning Indian melodic and harmonic realm – it moves from innocuous melodies such as the traditional German “Ihr Hirten, erwachet! [Early Shepherd”] it moves through three grandiose variations of the 16th century German carol “Es ist ein Ros entsprungen” featuring seductively beautiful miniatures brimming with intense fervour.
Through it all Mr Rückert enrobes the music with a haloed sound with a sense of drama and unerring instinct for pacing and feeling. In “Ihr Hirten, erwachet!”, for instance, Mr Rückert combines the intellectual acumen of Bill Evans with an arguably more vivid palette. “Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ” is a miracle of colouring combined with reverence and a sure sense of narrative as if possessed by Luther’s text that raises the music itself to the Divine. Time and again you marvel as the confidence and sureness of Mr Rückert’s playing, combined with the same finesse and musicality which must have so impressed his celebrated teachers Rainer Brüninghaus and John Taylor to legendary musicians such as Lee Konitz. It’s the kind of playing, in fact, where comparisons cease to matter, although the liquid beauty of Bill Evans does come to mind.
But balancing that memory is the sheer variety of nuance in Mr Rückert’s playing, not the ;least in the slow movements of “Maria durch ein Dornwald ging [“Maria”], with its restrained rhetoric here brought out by a perfectly judged tempo. Meanwhile, in the music of “Es wird scho gleich dumpa [“Malari Dumpa”] and “Aumcara Mantra”, the pianist stretches further afield producing a music that is a tricky balance between Eastern and Western modes with seemingly Mixolydian chord-changes acting as the glue between the disparate modes.
This is complex music, but in Mr Rückert’s hands the symphonic range of thinking behind the music is raptly caught, as is the ambiguity and changeability of mood, together with the twisting shifts of key that sometimes characterises a particular piece of music. Naturally such a singular endeavour demands nothing but the best in terms of production and engineering and this has been brilliantly caught in the warmth of the celebrated Ralf Kemper’s recording. All of this makes A Rose E’er Blooming by Thomas Rückert something to die for.
Track list – 1: Ihr Hirten, erwachet! [“Early Shepherd”]; 2: Es ist ein Ros entsprungen [“Rose 1”]; 3: Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ [“Praise”]; 4: Ich steh’ an deiner Krippe hier [“Crib”]; 5: In dulci jubilo [“Jubilo”]; 6: Maria durch ein Dornwald ging [“Maria”]; 7: Es ist ein Ros entsprungen [“Rose 2”]; 8: Leise rieselt der Schnee [“Trickling”]; 9: Es kommt ein Schiff geladen [“Holy Ship”]; 10: Es wird scho gleich dumpa [“Malari Dumpa”]; 11: Macht hoch die Tür [“Gate”]; 12: Aumcara Mantra; 13: Ermuntre Dich mein schwacher Geist [“Elevation”]; 14. Es ist ein Ros entsprungen [“Rose 3”]; 15: Gottes Sohn ist gekommen [“Transition”]
Personnel – Thomas Rückert: piano [Steinway D concert grand]
Released – December 18, 2020
Label – Eden River Records
Producer and engineer – Ralf Kemper
Runtime – 55:36