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JS Bach The Well-Tempered Clavier Review

Album. Released 2007.  

BBC Review

Book 1 of Bach's celebrated '48 Preludes and Fugues', performed with great technical...

Andrew McGregor 2003

The 'Well-Tempered Clavier': originally the first set of twenty-four Preludes and Fugues by Bach, one in each of the twelve major and twelve minor keys. The set represents an extraordinary combination of ideas; first a logical (but far trickier) extension to the studies of counterpoint Bach had written for his children and students in his two-part Inventions and three-part here's the fugue in all its intellectual complexity, plus the musical and technical brilliance of the preludes.

But the 'Well-Tempered Clavier' is light years from being a mere textbook for keyboard players, even if it has sometimes been treated as such: Bach didn't do 'mere'. It's also a phenomenal display of musical imagination, and a daring experiment; the 'well-tempered' bit refers to the idea of tweaking the instrument's tuning just enough that each specific key keeps its essential tonal characteristics, yet the entire range of keys and tonalities can be explored without having to retune.

So, to a certain extent, colour and tonal character are meant to dictate the performer's (and listener's) response to Bach's music...this seems to be absolutely critical to Pierre Hantaï's approach as he moves from one key to the next. Not for him the extremes of tempo and wilful distortions of some artists - it feels as though every cue to which he reacts comes from within the score itself; an intimate dialogue with the text rather than an imposition of interpretation on it from outside. Hantaï's technical ability is beyond question, and his artistry is so persuasive on its own terms I've found him less controversial and more endlessly fascinating than almost any harpsichordist I've heard on record.

The instrument sounds like a beauty: a recent creation by Jürgen Ammer based on a harpsichord from 1720, and recorded satisfyingly close with the bass sonorities being particularly well caught.

So that's Book 1. Book 2 must follow now, surely? There's at least one sale guaranteed if it's as good as the first volume.

Like This? Try These:
JS Bach: Complete Harpsichord Concertos (Richard Egarr)
JS Bach: The Toccatas (Angela Hewitt)
CPE Bach: Sonatas and Rondos (Mikhail Pletnev)

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