RECORDING OF THE MONTH
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier, BWV846-893: Books I and II [218:00]
Daniel-Ben Pienaar (piano)
rec. 16 and 23 April 2013 (Book 1); 13-15 September 2004 (Book 2), Duke’s Hall of the Royal Academy of Music, London
AVIE AV2299 [4 CDs: 218:00]
It is pretty evident that Daniel-Ben Pienaar has amassed an outstanding discography. With recordings of the complete Mozart Sonatas (AV2209), Bach’s Goldberg Variations (AV2235), Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations (AV2260), a disc of Orlando Gibbons already under his belt, and a traversal of Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas in the pipeline, the omens look good.
He was born in South Africa, and studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London, where he now teaches. It is in the Academy’s Duke’s Hall that these recordings were made. Book 1 is a new recording made in 2013. He made his first commercial recording of this book back in 2004 for a small independent label. That same year, he recorded Book 2, which was unreleased at the time and here makes its first appearance. Pienaar explains in the notes that no attempt has been made to match the sound of the two sets, separated by nine years; he regards each book as a distinct entity.
I have to say from the outset that this is one of the most impressive cycles that I have ever heard. Throughout, Pienaar shows great musical integrity and intelligence. The general tenor of his performances is spontaneity and an improvisatory feel. With speeds generally brisk, he doesn’t linger or allow the music to lapse into repetitive tedium. Each prelude and fugue is fresh, adventurous and well-characterized with an innate sense of style. Vital and immediate, each is underpinned and energized with rhythmic thrust.
Contrapuntal lines are well-defined. Phrasing is well judged, and dynamics suitably varied. With sparing use of pedal, lines are never smudged, the pianist achieving luminosity in the contrapuntal strands and harmonic progressions. All ornamentation is tastefully executed. Pienaar explores the full range of the piano’s potential.
His fabulous technique is not showy in any way, but put to the service of the music. Scintillating fingerwork is on display in such Preludes as No. 21 in B flat BWV 866, No 15 in G major BWV 860 (Book 1), and No. 6 in D minor BWV 875 (Book 2). One marvels at the clarity of articulation in Prelude No. 17 in A flat BWV 862 (Book 1). Yet he is also able to emphasize the darker elements in such Preludes as No. 16 in G minor BWV 885 (Book 2). In the complex 4-voice Fugue in B minor BWV 869 (Book 1), he teases out the contrapuntal lines with dexterity and commanding articulation.
Sound quality between the two books and the recording time lapse is negligible. The engineers have achieved an ideal, warm, intimate ambience from the Duke’s Hall. The acoustic favours the character of these works, positively facilitating the full realization of the polyphonic textures.
With so much competition out there, this recording has the advantage that the pianist has something new to say about these works. Not imposing his personality on the music, he allows the music to emerge and speak for itself. This delightful issue is complemented by Pienaar’s comprehensive and erudite booklet essays. These are in English only.
For those coming to these works for the first time, this set will provide an ideal introduction. To those who consider the Well-Tempered Clavier as a sequence of dry, academic exercises, Pienaar’s traversal will be a revelation.
CD 1 [45.41]
1-2 No.1 in C, BWV846 [1.23/1.54]
3-4 No.2 in C minor BWV847 [1.49/1.23]
5-6 No.3 in C sharp BWV848 [1.07/2.04]
7-8 No.4 in C sharp minor BWV849 [2.52/3.53]
9-10 No.5 in D BWV850 [0.56/1.35]
11-12 No.6 in D minor BWV851 [1.12/1/31]
13-14 No.7 in E flat BWV852 [3.32/1.36]
15-16 No.8 in E flat minor BWV853 [3.11/3.27]
17-18 No.9 in E BWV854 [1.01/0.51]
19-20 No.10 in E minor BWV855 [1.48/1.00]
21-22 No.11 in F BWV856 [0.52/1.15]
23-24 No.12 in F minor BWV857 [2.00/2.51]
1-2 No.13 in F sharp BWV858 [1.43/1.37]
3-4 No.14 in F sharp minor BWV859 [0.50/3.26]
5-6 No.15 in G BWV860 [0.43/2.33]
7-8 No.16 in G minor BWV861 [1.59/1.47]
9-10 No.17 in A flat BWV862 [1.08/2.07]
11-12 No.18 in G sharp minor BWV863 [18.104.22.168]
13-14 No.19 in A BWV864 [1.07/1.39]
15-16 No.20 in A minor BWV865 [1.00/4.12]
17-18 No.21 in B flat BWV866 [1.09/1.30]
19-20 No.22 in B flat minor BWV867 [2.41/3.51]
21-22 No.23 in B BWV868 [0.50/1.47]
23-24 No.24 in B minor BWV869 [5.00/6.45]
CD 3 [53.30]
1-2 No.1 in C BWV870 [2.19/1.17]
3-4 No.2 in C minor BWV871 [1.51/1.49]
5-6 No.3 in C sharp BWV872 [1.37/1.32]
7-8 No.4 in C sharp minor BWV 873 [4.16/1.36]
9-10 No.5 in D BWV874 [2.53/1.40]
11-12 No.6 in D minor BWV875 [1.20/1.24]
13-14 No.7 in E flat BWV876 [2.19/1.12]
15-16 No.8 in D sharp minor BWV 877 [3.10/3.20]
17-18 No.9 in E BWV878 [2.15/3.23]
19-20 No.10 in E minor BWV879 [2.03/2.02]
21-22 No.11 in F BWV880 [2.53/1.33]
23-24 No.12 in F minor BWV881 [3.22/1.28]
CD 4 [67.02]
1-2 No.13 in F sharp BWV882 [3.05/2.21]
3-4 No.14 in F sharp minor BWV883 [3.05/3.31]
5-6 No.15 in G BWV884 [2.14/1.08]
7-8 No.16 in G minor BWV885 [2.59/2.14]
9-10 No.17 in A flat BWV886 [3.20/2.50]
11-12 No.18 in G sharp minor BWV887 [3.25/5.34]
13-14 No.19 in A BWV888 [1.36/1.04]
15-16 No.20 in A minor BWV889 [2.47/1.21]
17-18 No.21 in B flat BWV890 [5.28/2.36]
19-20 No.22 in B flat minor BWV891 [2.32/3.32]
21-22 No.23 in B BWV892 [1.49/3.34]
23-24 No.24 in B minor BWV893 [2.13/1.59]
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