The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I
Trevor Pinnock (harpsichord)
DG 483 8436 117:32 mins (2 discs)
In the booklet notes accompanying this recording, Trevor Pinnock rightly observes that the preludes and fugues of The Well-Tempered Clavier were not intended for the concert hall, but for sharing and teaching. Given the domestic milieu in which these works were performed, it might have been nice to have included a greater variety of instruments, perhaps the clavichord much beloved of German organists of the day for home practice. But the copy of an 18th-century Hemsch harpsichord on which Pinnock plays is handsome sounding and provides a welcome variety of registration.
The quality of these performances is immediately apparent in the opening prelude and fugue, the former unaffectedly simple and the latter beautifully pointed with a clear sense of structure and an attractive hint of inequality. There are also moments of exhilarating virtuosity as in the superbly limpid Presto in the second prelude and the life-enhancing lightness of the B flat major Prelude. The virtuosity, however, is matched by a strong feeling for rhetoric, as in the C sharp major Fugue and, where appropriate, humour.
Occasionally some of the tempos can seem a little precipitate, which leads to a slightly routine reading of the G major Prelude; and a more moderate tempo in the C sharp minor Fugue would have allowed its magisterial final stretto to emerge fully. But as a whole these are fine, well recorded performances if perhaps not to be enjoyed in one sitting: as Pinnock observes, a recording ‘affords the modern listener flexibility to listen as they wish’.