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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Das wohltemperierte Clavier - Book 2, BWV 870-893 (1742?)
Masaaki Suzuki (harpsichord)
rec. 2005, Kobe Shoin Women’s University Chapel, Japan
BIS BIS-CD-1513-4 [82:08 + 78:16]
Experience Classicsonline

The ‘Well-Tempered Clavier’, or ‘48 Preludes and Fugues’, were assembled by Bach over a substantial period, with the second book (recorded here) completed during the 1740s. The exact provenance is hard to confirm since the music was not published during the composer’s lifetime.
Suzuki recorded Book 1 back in 1996, and since then his contribution to the Bach catalogue has been impressive: not only with keyboard music but also in his esteemed recordings of the B minor Mass, the passions and the cantatas.
More than in his previous keyboard recordings of Bach, Suzuki’s approach to Book 2 is strongly imaginative and flexible. Clearly in a collection of so many shorter pieces trading top-class artists off against one another is a pointless exercise. One will be quicker than another here, slower than another there and-or have a different approach to balancing textures and decoration. In any case there is always more than one way to perform a masterpiece, on whichever scale it is written. Thus Suzuki assumes a worthy place in the catalogue alongside Bob van Asperen (Virgin Classics 5 61711-2) and Ton Koopman (Erato 0630-16169-2).
The timings tell us that Suzuki is generous with repeats and can opt for slower, expressive tempi on occasion. Thus the C sharp minor Prelude takes on an elegiac tone, making it an exercise in lyricism when compared with the more etude-like approach of others. This is particularly bold on the harpsichord, since it is more often those who favour the piano with its wider tonal options who bring such expressive intensity to this music. The recent recording by Craig Sheppard is a fine example on Roméo Records 7269-70 (see review).
Making the most of the structural aspects of repeat markings is a concern of Suzuki’s that strengthens the musical structures. For instance, the B flat Prelude and Fugue is seldom allowed this honour - Koopman leaves off the second repeat, for instance - but the piece seems the better for it. Also, his dancing rhythmic gait is most engaging. But, on the whole, tempi tend towards the sensitive exploration of expressive potential, and therefore the slower rather than the faster. This is not to deny energy, however, such as in the virtuoso renditions of the D major and G major Preludes.
The recording location is Suzuki’s preferred Kobe Shoin University chapel, whose warm acoustic is tried and tested. As so often in recordings of harpsichord - and guitar - music, the perspective is close, on the verge of being unduly close. It’s a case of the cheaper front row rather than the more expensive tenth row, so to speak. A little taming of the somewhat fierce volume level will go a long way to ensuring full enjoyment of these performances by one of the most gifted musicians of our time.
Terry Barfoot


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