LABELS: DG Archiv Originals
WORKS: Das wohltemperirte Clavier, Book 1
PERFORMER: Ralph Kirkpatrick (clavichord)
CATALOGUE NO: 463 601-2 ADD Reissue (1963)
No one performer could ever embrace the limitless stylistic and emotional range of Bach’s 48 Preludes and Fugues, but Sergey Schepkin certainly has at his fingertips an extraordinary array of expressive devices. I reviewed his recording of Book 1 favourably in these pages last November and Book 2 is perhaps more impressive still. Schepkin conveys the improvisatory nature of many of the preludes with virtuoso panache; and he is equally at home with Bach’s light-filled, dance-inspired movements at one extreme, and the starkly austere stile antico fugues at the other. Nor is this disc marred by the strange fluctuations of tempo that seemed to have crept in during the editing of the earlier set.
For his 1963 recording, Ralph Kirkpatrick chose the clavichord – an instrument whose infinitely delicate voice draws the listener in, demanding total attention. Given its mechanical problems, Kirkpatrick plays with great passion and unfettered virtuosity. Perhaps this is a disc for Baroque connoisseurs or early instrument enthusiasts, but anyone prepared to make an effort will be amply rewarded by the light it sheds on Bach’s keyboard writing. Once the ear has adjusted to the intimate sound-world, the clavichord’s myriad of dynamic shades and subtle nuances of pitch take on dramatic proportions. Kirkpatrick’s musical rhetoric speaks volumes, but for its profound poetry and timeless musicianship Edwin Fischer’s complete set of the ‘48’ – albeit over 60 years old and heard through a layer of crackle – remains my benchmark. Kate Bolton