When Siggi Loch first floated the idea that Joachim Kühn might like to make an album of ballads, the pianist’s response was jocular and rebellious, as is typical of him: “Maybe when I’m ninety...” That initial resistance wasn’t to last long, and Kühn, now in his midseventies, soon started to settle down at the fine Steinway in his home – he keeps it impeccably tuned – switch on his DAT recorder, and set to work. “The advantage of being here at home in Ibiza is that I can simply make a recording when I want to. When the feeling comes, I just record,” Kühn reflects.
Over a period of about fifteen months he sent a total of some forty individual tracks to Loch. He would often take pieces, re-think them, and end up sending off several different versions to Berlin. So what emerges on this new solo piano album “Touch the Light” is a distillation from those individual takes, all made on the same piano and in the same space. It flows extremely well as a coherent and delightful programme.
Some of the pieces here have deep personal resonance. “A Remark You Made” by Joe Zawinul takes Kühn straight back to a pivotal moment in his life: Zawinul was a juror at the 1966 Gulda competition in Vienna, the event which facilitated the 22-year-old pianist’s escape from East Germany. Gato Barbieri’s theme from “Last Tango in Paris” recalls not just the fact that Barbieri enlisted Kühn in 1972 to play on the soundtrack, but it is also a tune he would play countless times later, in his trio with Daniel Humair and Jean-Francois Jenny-Clark. And the Allegretto from Beethoven’s 7th Symphony not only brings to the fore a composer whose music has always made the deepest of impressions on Kühn, but also the fact that his physical resemblance to Beethoven often resulted in fellow musicians giving him the nickname Beethoven.
Above all, however, it is in the simplicity, the spaciousness and the sheer delight in melody of his own compositions that Kühn both touches the heart and gives us the greatest surprises on this album. “Sintra” is a tune written down in a peaceful moment outside a café in the one-time sanctuary of the Portuguese kings. And the title track “Touch the Light” captures the beauty of the sunset over the sea that Kühn often contemplates from his terrace. Kühn’s remark about that tune is also true of the album as a whole: “There’s a lot of love here. And joy.”