Bach: Das wohltemperirte Klavier Book 1; Das wohltemperirte Klavier Book 2

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COMPOSERS: Bach
LABELS: Nimbus
WORKS: Das wohltemperirte Klavier Book 1; Das wohltemperirte Klavier Book 2
PERFORMER: Bernard Roberts (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: NI 5608-11 Reissue
As Bach’s anniversary year arrives, several pianists have thrown down the gauntlet with some outstanding recordings. The past year has seen the release to much acclaim of the Partitas from Richard Goode, the Goldberg Variations from Rosalyn Tureck, and Angela Hewitt’s stunning account of the Well-Tempered Clavier. All three convey an infectious delight in Bach’s music which invites repeated listening. Despite many fine attributes, the same cannot be said for this set from Bernard Roberts.

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The simplicity of the opening C major Prelude (Book I) is typically revealing. Like a microscope, it magnifies Roberts’s ‘placing’ of certain beats. Although justifiable, this instils an air of affectation which becomes an increasingly annoying mannerism when it recurs, especially in the D major Fugue and E major Prelude from (Book 1), and the D sharp Prelude (Book 2).

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Nevertheless, such quirks do not explain why this set does not engage the listener despite the undoubted charm of, for instance, a wonderfully relaxed C sharp major Fugue (Book 2). On the one hand, Roberts rarely imbues the music with the ebullience which comes from the dance-like approach of Hewitt. The repeating notes of the G minor Fugue (Book 2) are rhythmically static, while the A minor Fugue (Book 2) lacks the ‘skin of the teeth’ anarchic brilliance of Hewitt. On the other hand, the B flat minor Prelude and Fugue (Book 1) are spectacularly perfunctory, suggesting Roberts is left impassive by its pathos. He is not helped by the hollow sound. Christopher Dingle