Bach: Das wohltemperirte Clavier

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Olympia
WORKS: Das wohltemperirte Clavier
PERFORMER: Tatiana Nikolaeva (piano)
Five years after her death, Tatiana Nikolaeva is affectionately thought of as the ‘baboushka’ of Russian keyboard playing, and as the dedicatee of the 20th-century equivalent of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier – the Preludes and Fugues by Shostakovich. This complete account of Bach’s ‘48’ was recorded in 1984, and from the outset Nikolaeva establishes her fundamentally Romantic approach: the opening Prelude is expansive and luscious, cocooned in a soft harmonic haze by the liberal use of the sustaining pedal. Thereafter, Nikolaeva colours her accounts with a spectrum of tonal shades – from the vibrant to the muted, but always with bold gestures. At times I found her playing simply too massive: the C minor and F major Preludes, and the Fugues in D and E major from Book One, for instance. The subject of the E flat Fugue from the Second Book is cumbersome, too, and the counterpoint of the A major heavy-handed. Nor is there the lithe spring in the step that Glenn Gould and András Schiff bring to Bach’s dance-influenced pieces. These two also remain unsurpassed in their dazzling technical agility – for them, passagework and trills are always effortless and faultless. But Nikolaeva is an artist of high seriousness, perfectly suited to Bach’s darker and more complex musical statements, and without the mannerisms and idiosyncrasies that many find irritating about Gould. There is no doubting the profundity and sincerity of her performances – qualities that made her one of the great pianists of our time. Kate Bolton