Bach: Das wohltemperirte Clavier, Book 1

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COMPOSERS: Bach
LABELS: BBC Legends
WORKS: Das wohltemperirte Clavier, Book 1
PERFORMER: Rosalyn Tureck (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: BBCL 4109-2 ADD
Rosalyn Tureck’s recording career has progressed in fits and starts for more than half a century, resulting in a rather unbalanced representation of her singular Bach interpretations. She approved, for instance, no fewer than seven versions of the Goldberg Variations for release, but never remade her complete 1952-3 Well-Tempered Clavier, reissued by DG in 1999. However, she recorded the ‘48’ for the BBC in 1975-6, and this release of Book 1 from the cycle provides a fascinating gloss upon the pianist’s earlier effort.

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Tempi, on the whole, are fleeter, and her highly refined finger independence, micro-managed dynamic calibrations and contrapuntal acumen manifest themselves in a more communicative artistic light. Her amazingly varied palette of articulations interact to organic rather than abstract effect, as in the D major and D minor Preludes and Fugues. The E minor Prelude’s poignant cantilena truly sings this time around, while Tureck allows left-hand single-line accompaniment-figures a wider range of inflections. In 1953 Tureck sealed the E flat Prelude in a glitch-free, germ-resistant test tube: so different from her proudly embellished, looser-limbed rethinking that we hear here.

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The engineering best captures Tureck’s multi-coloured soft playing, but loud passages sound relatively strident and steel-edged, abetted by her occasional habit of leaning into downbeats (annoyingly so in the first and final fugues). You won’t find the warmth and dance-oriented vantage-point of Angela Hewitt’s benchmark ‘48’, but Tureck’s admirers and piano devotees will certainly welcome this release, as well as anticipate Book 2, due this spring. Jed Distler