JS Bach

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COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: Deutsche Grammophon
ALBUM TITLE: JS Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1
WORKS: The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1
PERFORMER: Pierre-Laurent Aimard (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: DG 479 2784

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When it comes to recording JS Bach, Pierre-Laurent Aimard does not plump for the innocent delights of a French Suite or the bravado of the youthful toccatas. His first Deutsche Grammophon recording was the Art of Fugue, and he again displays his penchant for the didactic with the first book of the Well-Tempered Clavier. His Bach is resolutely head-driven – and it’s curious. His preeminently ascetic use of the sustaining pedal creates clarity tinged with dryness, yet he’s prone to Romantically portentous rallentandos. And while Bach gives a distinct personality to each prelude-and-fugue pairing, there are stretches when Aimard seems bent on not differentiating between them: tempos converge, expressive differences blur. What energises him is the counterpoint, though the interweaving lines are often held at arm’s length for admiration rather than ‘lived’; the two darkest preludes are oddly detached emotionally – the B flat minor more grey than black, the E flat minor stiffly gauche.

A pity, because there’s much to savour in Aimard’s intellectual rigour – the A major fugue, for example, is fashioned with impish eccentricity, its ‘French’ D major companion is seized upon with zeal, and the E major Fugue is bright and exhilarating. Beware, however, the opening of the B major Fugue which unsettlingly drops a beat at the end of the statement of its theme – whether a momentary lapse or a careless edit, it jars in the context of Aimard’s otherwise unimpeachable fastidiousness.

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Paul Riley