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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
The Well-Tempered Clavier Books 1 and 2
Preludes and Fugues BWV 846-869
András Schiff (piano)
rec. August 2011, Auditorio Radiotelevizione svizzera, Lugano.
ECM NEW SERIES 2270-73 (4764827) [4 CDs: 51:36 + 53:34 + 66:05 + 72:47] 

Experience Classicsonline

András Schiff recorded most of Bach’s keyboard works in the 1980s, and has recently made a number of new recordings for ECM. This boxed set of the two books of the Well-Tempered Clavier is his latest such release, and shows Schiff as a much more mature pianist. Making a point of using the pedal as little as possible, Schiff delineates all the contrapuntal lines in the fugues carefully, and plays the preludes with zest and brio. In some ways, Schiff adopts a Gouldian approach here; hardly any legato, and very percussive.
On the other hand, Schiff doesn’t fall into Gould’s excesses. He presents each prelude and fugue as a carefully polished gem. Not using the sustaining pedal helps give the impression of separation between notes - as one hears more on a harpsichord. This serves to bring out the rhythms of the pieces. His ornamentation is subtle and limited, but one gets the feeling that it is just right.
Over time, listening through these four discs, I found that Schiff’s style - which at first seemed just a bit jarring - made more and more sense. The music here can be lively or pensive, and Schiff takes on all of its moods and provides an approach that stands on its own. Comparing it with pianists who use the pedal shows a very large difference, but comparing it with harpsichord recordings offers more similarities than differences; this in spite of the very different sounds of the instruments.
The recording is excellent; the piano sounds rich and full, with no reverb to mar the detail or to drown out the subtleties of the counterpoint.
This is a fine recording of Bach’s great preludes and fugues - one that even those hesitant to listen to the work on a modern piano should seek out.
Kirk McElhearn  

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