Bach: Das Wohltemperierte Clavier

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COMPOSERS: Bach
LABELS: Pelléas
WORKS: Das Wohltemperierte Clavier
PERFORMER: Scott Ross (harpsichord)
CATALOGUE NO: CD-0101-02, CD-0103-04
Fixed pitch instruments such as keyboards have in-built tuning problems: either some keys are pure while others are jarringly dissonant or, a compromise, all keys are equally nearly in tune. ‘Well-Tempered’ has usually been assumed to imply this ‘equally tempered’ solution, though historical evidence and the music itself suggest Bach may have intended a temperament imbuing different keys with distinctive characters while all remain tolerable to the ear. You will not find the answer in the arcane notes here (including: ‘Bach’s taste is not anecdotal (although it figures in the quotient, but should never be radicalized)’ – sic!). They hint however at another solution feasible when recording – to adjust tunings to suite your current key. Perhaps this is what Ross attempted in this recording, nearly 20 years ago, but sadly the result is not a rainbow of temperaments but plain ill-tuned unisons and octaves. Among the most audible examples are in E major (Book 1), and the gaunt subject of the F sharp minor fugue (Book 2).

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The sound is marred too by a thunderous rumble of key action, particularly where manuals are coupled – among the worst the fugues in C major and C sharp minor (Bk 2) .

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Yet Scott has much to offer: lively tempi shave an astonishing 42 minutes off Moroney’s pensive approach; he handles with exemplary clarity the contrapuntal complexities of the E flat fugue (Bk 1); stylishly lilting inégales triplets characterise the D major prelude (Bk 2), and he finds an ingenious solution to the uneven note-values of the E minor fugue (Bk 2). George Pratt