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JS Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II (Anderszewski)

Piotr Anderszewski (piano) (Warner Classics)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

JS Bach
The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II – excerpts
Piotr Anderszewski (piano)
Warner Classics 9029511875   75:08 mins

Piotr Anderszewski delights in wrong-footing his audiences. Sometimes dramatically, viz beginning a Barbican recital lounging on a sofa and sipping tea, as though waiting for someone else to sit at the piano. Sometimes musically: silencing Wigmore applause by announcing that he hadn’t played a Bach partita well enough, so he would play it all again as an encore.

This recording creatively wrong-foots our expectations, offering 12 preludes and fugues from Book II of Bach’s 48 in an entirely new order. ‘It seems to me,’ he says in a liner note, that they were published in an order which is ‘not one in which the pieces follow each other with an emotional, musical inevitability.’ His new ordering is sometimes based on key relationships, and sometimes on ‘contrasts which seem to draw the pieces irresistibly together.’ He sees them as character pieces, and wishes to give the impression of those characters in conversation.

For this listener at least, Anderszewski’s interpretations and juxtapositions have a compelling inevitability; but the other reason for the recording’s success lies in his pianism. Anderszewski’s flexible, responsive touch and his often slowish tempos allow a subtle suggestiveness. The contrapuntal voices are vividly characterised, and Bach’s paired contrasts are lovely: grave ceremoniousness followed by a bright awakening in No. 1, sweet intimacy followed by an explosion of colour in No. 12. The whole set is beautiful from start to finish, but certain pieces stand out: a brilliantly exuberant prelude to No. 18, and a serenely floating cantabile in its fugue. The fugue of No. 17 is like a merry peal of bells. Glorious.


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Michael Church