Bach: Das Wohltemperierte Klavier, Book 1

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WORKS: Das Wohltemperierte Klavier, Book 1
PERFORMER: Masaaki Suzuki (harpsichord)
Anyone planning to buy a recording of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier may well be bewildered by the choice; and these two new releases by Rosalyn Tureck and Masaaki Suzuki only go to show how enormously interpretations can differ. Tureck was a pioneer of anti-Romantic Baroque performance, and in this live harpsichord recital from 1981 her playing is at its most abrasive, brittle and unyielding. There’s certainly no lack of bravura, despite spatterings of wrong notes, but her relentless and uncompromising approach turns these works into cold, text-book exercises. The recital also includes Bach’s Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue and a vivacious performance of the Italian Concerto.


By contrast, there’s a glowing lyricism to Masaaki Suzuki’s playing, though no doubt he’s aided by the halo of reverberation around the harpsichord. Romantic gloss, perhaps, but few would deny that this is an exceptionally fine instrument. Suzuki’s accounts tend towards introspection, dwelling on the darker side of Bach’s music, but he can certainly turn on the virtuosity when it’s needed.


Finally, Blandine Verlet, well-known for her sensitive interpretations of Bach, here turns to his Inventions and Sinfonias – thirty brief poems on the art of composing and playing in two and three parts. The 1624 harpsichord has a beautiful, silvery sound, though the recording is a touch hollow. These are finely controlled accounts, and although I could occasionally have wished for more variety, there is ample compensation in the inclusion of the ornamented versions of the C major Invention and six of the Sinfonias. These were made under Bach’s supervision by one of his pupils, and they give a fascinating insight into the way Bach himself might have elaborated on his texts.