Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier, Books 1 & 2

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ALBUM TITLE: Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier, Books 1 & 2
WORKS: The Well-Tempered Clavier, Books 1 & 2
PERFORMER: András Schiff (piano)


When András Schiff first recorded the ‘48’ a quarter of a century ago, the outcome was a gift to those in search of Bach on the piano without the idiosyncrasies of Glenn Gould or the suffocating monumentality of Rosalyn Tureck. Aware, though never a card-carrying member, of the ‘historically informed’ movement, Schiff pushed at a door that has admitted the likes of Murray Perahia and Angela Hewitt – pianists first, but with a sense of period style.

That Schiff Decca set remains a model of sovereign intelligence, limpid playfulness and pianism, but in revisiting the Well-Tempered Clavier he has said that he wants to eliminate touches of sentimentality. The result feels more like an evolution than a rejection of his youthful preoccupations. The ornamentation is less exuberant, the rubato less intrusive, and Schiff is more determined to let Bach’s music speak for itself.

But ‘speak’ is the wrong verb. Schiff’s Bach sings and dances, and has a clarity derived from a mesmerising touch and an aversion
to the sustain pedal. The crucial organic relationship he establishes between prelude and fugue, meanwhile, remains unimpeachable – even when contrasting the ‘French’ delicacy of Book 2’s C sharp minor Prelude with the irresistible vigour of its Fugue. Schiff’s new set doesn’t replace the old; it complements it.


Paul Riley