JS Bach The Well-Tempered Clavier
Alexandra Papastefanou (piano)
First Hand Records FHR 65 263:11 mins (4 discs)
With Bach played on the piano well and truly back in fashion, there is a Well Tempered Clavier available to suit virtually every taste. Yet if there is a general interpretative tendency, it is the conveyed sense one is entering hallowed musical territory and that in the face of the romanticised ‘excesses’ of previous generations and bearing in mind the revelations of historically informed practice, there are certain niceties to be observed. How refreshing and deeply compelling, then, to encounter Alexandra Papastefanou’s no-holds-barred, red-blooded, freely yet subtly pedalled responses to this era-defining compendium.
As if entranced by the music’s purely expressive contours, Papastefanou imbues Bach’s imperious musical logic with a rich humanity and emotional narrative. In the light of modern authenticism, some may occasionally find the results over-personalised; yet this is surely to miss the point – yes, Bach was music’s most profound contrapuntal genius, but he was also a flesh-and-blood human being. Rarely has the dancing joy of the D major Prelude from Book I been so infectiously conveyed, topped off by a delicious reversal of common procedure by playing the second of the cumulative spread chords in a downwards direction. Inauthentic? Almost certainly. Musically in the moment and convincing? Absolutely. Yet where Papastefanou really comes into her own is in Book II. Whereas even the most devoted of Bachians often cannot quite disguise the music’s lack of spontaneous flair compared to its predecessor, Papastefanou continues apparently unfazed, conveying her warm affection for even the most inscrutable complexities of Bach’s creative thinking.