> JS Bach - Well-Tempered Clavier [KM]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I BWV 846-869
Rosalyn Tureck, piano
Rec: September and October 1975, April 1976, BBC Concert Hall Studios, London.
BBC MUSIC BBCL 4109 2 [131.21]


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Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier is a set of twenty-four preludes and fugues, in each major and minor key. Widely considered to be the summit of keyboard music, it is an encyclopaedia of forms and styles, and, especially, of contrapuntal composition. Rosalyn Tureck, once called the High Priestess of Bach, has certainly marked the twentieth century with her many recordings of Bach’s keyboard music on piano. This recording, made for the BBC in 1975 and 1976, is a welcome addition to her discography.

Rosalyn Tureck’s landmark 1953 recording of the Well-Tempered Clavier remains one of the milestones in the discography of Bach recordings, but this set, recorded more than twenty years later, shows the pianist at the summit of her form. Benefiting from an additional two decades of experience with this music, she gives it insights of which few pianists would be capable.

There is a great deal of fluidity in the preludes, and a strong sense of rhythm in many of the fugues, such as the second fugue in C minor. Some pianists tend to be better with the former, and others the latter. In this recording, Tureck seems to give a much stronger place to the fugues, turning them into carefully crafted works of art. One is in the presence of greatness here. Listen to the haunting 12th fugue in F minor, how Tureck turns this into a profound statement of grief and pathos. Much slower than her 1953 recording (a full minute longer - 5:49 compared with 4:48), Rosalyn Tureck here plays a mature reading of this fugue, full of the richness of experience.

In general, the tempi here are more rapid. This set clocks in at some twenty minutes shorter than the 1953 set. Yet some of the key fugues are played much more slowly. The great four-part B minor fugue, the final one in this set, is here played in 8:24, more than a minute longer than her early recording, as is its prelude. This closing pair has all the force and depth, in this recording, of the Art of Fugue or other major works. Tureck seems to play this pair as if they are the defining sections of book I; indeed they sound as such. She plays this final fugue with such heart-rending beauty that the silence that follows after the disc is finished still sounds like Bach.

A note on the recording. This "historic" recording has been cleaned up and remastered, but is not perfect. The piano has a clangy sound in the loudest passages, and sounds as if it was miked too closely. Fortunately this does not detract unduly from the music.

This is one of the finest piano recordings of the first book of the Well-Tempered Clavier available. What a pleasure to discover this, which shows Rosalyn Tureck at her finest. I eagerly await book II, which will be released in the spring of 2003.

Kirk McElhearn

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