Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier

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LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Das Wohltemperierte Clavier, Book 2
PERFORMER: Richard Egarr (harpsichord)


It is almost three years ago since Richard Egarr recorded Book 1 of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier (Harmonia Mundi HMU 907431-32). By and large I enjoyed it, while remarking that Egarr perhaps laid greater emphasis on Bach’s declared didactic purpose than on its bravura elements.

These are, however, just two elements to be found in a work of extraordinary stylistic diversity and sensuality which succeeding generations of composers and performers have identified. Egarr approaches Bach’s profound and provocatively ambivalent work evidently well aware of all its possibilities and pitfalls. 

Like Gustav Leonhardt, Egarr explores the poetic content of the music with unhurried tempos, generous punctuation and eloquently shaped phrasing. This much is clearly apparent in his reflective account of the C major Prelude with which Book 2 begins. Allowing more time than any competing version on disc, Egarr discloses greater depths in this beautiful piece than his rivals.


The C sharp major Prelude benefits from a similarly ruminative approach, though I did in part yearn for Ton Koopman’s greater vitality (Erato/Warner). Elsewhere Egarr demonstrates his sensitivity to Bach’s stylistic idiom through his use of ornaments and rhetoric: the D major Prelude, for instance, is treated here with appropriately galant panache. Egarr’s rhythmic elasticity heightens Bach’s conversational dimension, welcoming us to the dialogue. Nicholas Anderson