Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier

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LABELS: Philips
WORKS: The Well-Tempered Clavier
PERFORMER: Daniel Chorzempa (harpsichord, clavichord, organ, fortepiano)
CATALOGUE NO: 446 690-2 Reissue
It is a peculiar kind of foolishness which causes a record company to issue a four-disc set, at full price, of ground-breaking, deathless music by an incomparable master – and sell it short. Yet that is precisely what Philips has done in this collection of JS Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. Daniel Chorzempa recorded Book 1 in 1982 and Book 2 in 1994, on a selection of period clavichords, harpsichords, organ and fortepiano. A scholarly article by the ineffable Peter Williams, best read with the aid of a magnifying glass and an ice-bag over the head, explores the ambiguities of title, date, compositional techniques and, indeed, purpose of this collection of 24 preludes and fugues, set in every major and minor key, twice over. Listeners in any doubt as to the type of instrument being played are required, annoyingly, to cross-reference over several pages of the booklet. Any old keyboard may have been regarded as a mere working tool for Bach and his contemporaries, but the set cries out for an essay by Chorzempa explaining the important mechanical differences between each keyboard, and his approach to the choice of instrument for the pieces. Exposed to the severe technical limitations of the chamber organ and the clavichord, the music here sounds lifeless; only with the harpsichord and fortepiano does it sound exciting and full of expressive possibilities, which are only intermittently revealed by Chorzempa, in spite of a polished technique. A patchwork recording which had this listener hankering for a rip-roaring performance of the ‘48’, either on harpsichord or anachronistic modern piano. Graeme Kay