Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier is a set of 24 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. Roslyn
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.
Roslyn Tureck’s landmark 1953 recording of the
Well-Tempered Clavier remains one of the milestones in the discography
of Bach recordings. However, 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.
Like a photo album that recalls souvenirs from
the past. Each prelude and fugue on this recording sounds like
something familiar, like a story told in the perfect tone for
each piece. Tureck's sense of rhythm is often such that it carries
you away. The C minor prelude shows how, with subtle accents on
the beats, the dynamic effects of the piano can be used to enhance
It is very difficult to review something this
good - there are few low points to mention, and so many high points
that it is hard to find a place to start. Tureck's emotion takes
each piece and places it on a much higher plane than other pianists
have ever been able to achieve. Her individuality shines through
each bar, each measure, with, above all, a vision, showing Bach
as he can be … as he should be. To hell with the debate of which
instrument this music should be played on. Here is ample proof
that the piano can be the ideal medium for this work.
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. This does not detract much from
the music. There is also an all too brief interview with Roslyn
Tureck who briefly discusses these works. It's a shame that the
BBC didn't choose to include longer excerpts from this interview
if they are indeed extant.
As I said when reviewing book I, this is one
of the finest piano recordings of the first book of the Well-Tempered
Clavier available. Book II confirms this. In the pantheon of piano
recordings of this work, Tureck takes the laurels with two extraordinary
recordings: the 1953 set and this one. Together with Glenn Gould's
idiosyncratic version, these are perhaps the three reference recordings
for this work on piano.