Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1, BWV 846-869

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COMPOSERS: Bach
LABELS: MusicMasters
WORKS: The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1, BWV 846-869
PERFORMER: Vladimir Feltsman (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: NM 67105 DDD (distr. Nimbus)
Few keyboard works have had more influence on successive generations of musicians than Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, two books of 24 preludes and fugues in all the major and minor keys.

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From the opening prelude, immortalised in Gounod’s Ave Maria, Vladimir Feltsman establishes his as an unashamedly Romantic interpretation. Bach claimed these pieces were intended ‘for the use and profit of the musical youth desirous of learning’, but Feltsman’s highly individual, if occasionally heavy-handed approach leaves any notion of pedagogical intent far behind. The same cannot be said of Huguette Dreyfus’s rather Teutonic reading: tempi are deliberate, only taking wing in the B flat major Prelude, and the recorded sound is slightly hard-edged.

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The difference between the two performances is epitomised in the final fugue to the first book. Here, as elsewhere, Feltsman is daringly expressive, drawing on the piano’s colouristic possibilities to produce an intimate yet poignant account – indeed some may find it over-indulgent. By contrast, Dreyfus sounds mechanical, making little sense of either the details of phrasing or the overall direction. Neither performance usurps the classic recordings by Glenn Gould or Edwin Fischer. Kate Bolton