Bach: Das wohltemperirte clavier, Book 1

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Bach
LABELS: Meridian
WORKS: Das wohltemperirte clavier, Book 1
PERFORMER: Julia Cload (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDE 84384/5-2
Julia Cload has already issued a thoughtful, naturally spoken, if a touch reverential, recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Now she has embarked on a musical journey of over twice the distance – Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, or in more user-friendly terms, the ‘48’. This release contains the 24 Preludes and Fugues of the First Book which in their final form date from 1722.

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Julia Cload plays all on a modern piano and, inasmuch as the tuning complies with equal temperament, it is indisputably ‘well-tempered’. Cload’s playing is sensitive, meticulous in notation and gently spoken. But I do find her inclined to make heavy weather of some of the fugues. The Fourth, in C sharp minor, is a case in point where her tempo and articulation suffuse the music with a mixture of weariness and somnolence. What a difference there is between this understanding of the music and that demonstrated, for example, by Edwin Fischer. Where Cload is always safe, Fischer is in there, getting his feet wet, splashing about, but producing performances of enormous character, vitality and vision.

And, in more recent times, Glenn Gould has invigorated us by his spirited if at times mannered playing. Cload, like Gould, can be lyrical, and lively without taking those risks with tempi that occasionally threaten coherence in the other.

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In short, this new version is safe and well-judged within boundaries that for me are too confining, and which hardly allow for the timeless, touching interpretational flair of Fischer. Preludes are lightly articulated, deft and buoyant, but fugues too often stagger under the weight of over-intense rumination and self-conscious gesture. Nicholas Anderson