Ottavio Dantone, an Italian harpsichordist and conductor
of no mean talent, plays Bach’s masterwork the Well-Tempered Clavier
with drive and vigor. His playing is energetic and lively; this is no
dry "academic" version of these preludes and fugues. It is
interesting that few Italian harpsichordists have stood out in this
One is immediately taken aback by the magnificent sound
of the harpsichord used on this recording. Not only is the instrument
itself - a copy of a Blanchet by Olivier Fadini - sparkling and rich,
but the recording is extraordinary. The harpsichord sounds as if it
is in the same room with the listener; its treble end is bright without
being harsh, and its bass notes resonate with great warmth. The recording
is excellent. There is a picture of Dantone playing during the recording
sessions, which shows his harpsichord in a spacious room, far from the
walls, which probably also has high ceilings. The instrument is recorded
by two microphones placed in front of and above the harpsichord. This
gives the recording a space and amplitude that is rare; the resonance
of the room is subtle and highlights the harpsichord without being intrusive.
Curiously, Dantone uses different temperaments for the two books: the
first is Werckmeister III, and the second is Kirberger. This is not
easily noticeable when listening to the recordings, and one could wonder
why he would have done this.
Dantone is a bit brash, though. At the end of the first
prelude, which most people have heard many times, he throws in a little
trill, something not in the original score, yet not entirely out of
place. It is as if he is saying, at the end of the very first and most
famous piece in this set, that he is here to show a different vision
of these works.
His playing covers the full range of styles and emotions
that this music calls for. In most cases, he seems to be in perfect
symbiosis with the music - he never forces the music to fit his style,
but rather adapts himself to each different piece flawlessly.
His performance of the E minor prelude in book I is
very exciting; his tempo is a bit faster than many performers, and he
gives great clarity to the two voices - the arpeggiating bass line is
very present, but not overpowering, and the treble voice is very playful
He can be forceful and energetic, as in the F minor
fugue in book I, and then light and delicate, as in the F sharp minor
prelude and fugue in the same book. Dantone adapts very well to the
different styles Bach used in this varied work.
Dantone ornaments very well, never overdoing it; even
in the G minor prelude of book I, with its long trills, which Dantone
plays at a relatively slow tempo, the ornaments sound just and fit well
with the music.
Dantone opens book two with an exceptionally tender
interpretation of the first prelude; this work is often played too quickly,
too aggressively, but Danton is very humble in his performance of this
piece, he lets the music take over rather than directing it too rigidly.
His performance of the C sharp major prelude is a gem
- his ornamentation is fresh and delightful, his phrasing subtle and
inventive. He takes this piece and gives it new life, infusing it with
joy and happiness. Even the following fugue takes on this tone, in spite
of the radical difference between the two pieces.
One could say that Dantone has almost a French sound
in the preludes; the F minor prelude in book II is a good example of
this. He plays the notes slightly détaché, with a very
"precious" touch and ornamentation. His rhythms are always
very clear and incisive, and his phrasing is excellent.
In the fugues, Dantone provides a clarity of the different
voices which is rare indeed. His rhythms are lively, his tempi appropriate,
but, above all, what comes through most is a deep joy. His performances
are far from the didactic fugues played by some artists; he shows that
these works are, while built on strict rules and counterpoint, eminently
This is a one of the best recordings available of the
Well-Tempered Clavier for harpsichord. The combination of the beautiful
instrument, excellent recording and uniquely personal interpretation
puts this among the few truly indispensable recordings of this work
on harpsichord. Ottavio Dantone is certainly a harpsichordist to follow
in the coming years. This set announces a great musician.
the Ottavio Dantone webpage