Bach: Das wohltemperirte Clavier, Book 1

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LABELS: Warner
WORKS: Das wohltemperirte Clavier, Book 1
PERFORMER: Daniel Barenboim (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 2564-61553-2
In Daniel Barenboim’s hands, Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier becomes the ‘Mighty-Tempered Concert Grand’. He approaches the 24 Preludes and Fugues from an unashamedly pianistic vantage point that is likely to drive latter-day period performance mavens to head for the hills. Listeners weaned on Glenn Gould’s dry-point articulation and X-ray clarity may be shocked at Barenboim’s lavish – sometimes almost garish – use of the sustaining pedal (the E flat major Prelude, for example) and pronounced dynamic extremes (helped by the recording’s roomy ambience), together with textual touch-ups like left-hand octave doublings. The latter work best when discreetly gauged, as in the B minor Prelude’s outer sections, or the D sharp minor Fugue, and when reinforcing long pedal tones. While Barenboim’s wide palette of nuances and pedal effects aims to heighten the music’s harmonic tension, they often blur its contrapuntal trajectory. Consequently, subsidiary voices tend to zoom in and out of focus in slower paced selections such as the Preludes in E minor, E flat minor and F minor, or the C sharp minor, F sharp minor, G sharp minor and A minor Fugues. And if Barenboim’s booklet essay describes the C sharp major Fugue as ‘like a dance with enormous vitality’, his performance hardly supports that image. However, the opposite is true in the pianist’s lithe and supple G major and B flat major Preludes, and the full-throated C major Fugue and B flat minor Prelude sing forth with breathtaking polyphonic acumen and flexibility. In short, a release that will not appeal to all tastes, yet Barenboim’s sheer musicality and personal force are everywhere in evidence. Jed Distler