COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Das Wohltemperirte Clavier, Vol. 1
PERFORMER: Richard Egarr (harpsichord)
CATALOGUE NO: HMU 907431-32
Bach assembled the two books which make up his 48 Preludes and Fugues at different periods in his life. Book One, which Richard Egarr offers in this newly recorded set, dates from 1722 and is the only one of the two to carry the title Das Wohltemperirte Clavier or ‘well-regulated’ clavier. Various tunings existed in Bach’s day and it is an issue which Bach himself leaves open as he does, by using the word clavier, the choice of instrument too.
Egarr’s hottest competition comes from Gustav Leonhardt (1973) and, much more recently, Pierre Hantaï whose Book Two is yet to appear. Egarr shares their skill in declaiming Bach’s musical argument in clearly and generously punctuated phrases and with an engaging conversational eloquence. Generally he prefers more leisurely tempos than Hantaï and while sometimes this can sound a little too studied, it pays off dividends in pieces like the D minor Prelude and the D major where Hantaï’s speed and sparser punctuation comes across as relentless. It is Hantaï, though, who more readily reaches the poetic heart of the music while Egarr prefers to emphasise its intended didactic purpose. In this respect, at least, he sides more closely with Leonhardt. None of these three indulges to the same extent in the bravura gestures to which Ton Koopman is characteristically inclined, but on balance I prefer the greater reflective dimension present in Egarr’s playing. I doubt if readers will find much to take issue with in this thoughtful and serious approach.